Dr. Tom: Lions and tigers and socialized medicine. Oh, my! …

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By Thomas R. Kluzak, M.D.

Whipping up fear, to which we respond in a visceral often irrational way, is a favorite tactic of politicians, and they especially love to be able to do it with just a few words. Thus, “death tax” has turned the tide of the American public against the estate tax, fearing that we would be unable to pass on any of our hard-earned legacy to our children, even though only 0.2 percent of those of us who die in any year will pay any estate tax.

Likewise, the words “socialized medicine” have incited fear of government control of our most personal selves for the past 90 or so years. The fear mongering has continued, despite the fact that no one has ever proposed adopting such a system.

You see, only two entities in the world offer true socialized medicine: Cuba and the U.S. Veterans Administration. They own all the hospitals, employ all the doctors and control every aspect of health care. No other country or agency does that.

However, that didn’t stop many from decrying Medicare as the beginning of socialism in the U.S. in 1965. Medicare, which allows for a free choice of doctors, hospitals, etc., and pays for care based at least loosely on value, may be “socialized insurance” but is not “socialized medicine” and is now perceived by a great majority as a vital and necessary part of our country. I propose that it is also a model for all our future health care.

None of us can afford to be sick, with the possible exception of people named Walton or Koch. Any trip to the hospital or emergency room results in charges that many, even those with insurance, cannot hope to pay.

Recall that insurance companies make money by “not” providing you with health care, that the majority of bankruptcies are due to medical bills and that the majority of those declaring bankruptcy have insurance. A basic tenant of modern health care, then, is this: Healthy people, who don’t require much care, need to pay for the unhealthy who do.

What is the most efficient, least expensive way to do this? Everybody contributes. That is so obvious that it was included as part of the “three-legged stool” on which the Massachusetts health-care bill known as Romneycare was based.

Effective health care for everyone required pre-existing conditions to be ignored, a mandate for everyone to be covered, and subsidies for those unable to pay. The simplest way to do this nationally would be to give everyone Medicare.

Recall that a major impetus to its passage was the avoidance of bankruptcy by the elderly, at which it has impressively succeeded, and there is every reason to believe that it would work in the same way for all Americans.

But could we afford it? Ask yourself why every other country that provides access to health care for all its citizens pays about half of what we pay and consider the advantages of having a real “health-care system” and you just might begin to see how.

Next time: the interesting — and crazy — history of the federal government and health care.

Dr. Kluzak, an Idyllwild resident, is board certified in  Anatomic Pathology, Obstetrics and Gynecology. He also is a freelance photographer for the Town Crier.

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