Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is Our Health Care Delivery System “Broken?”

Many critics have concluded that our health care delivery system is “broken.”

A recent reminder of that was an Op-Ed article that appeared last October in My San Antonio. It was authored by Ruth Berggren; physician, UT faculty member, and long-time family friend. The title is “Our health care delivery system is broken.” The article was called to my attention by Ruth’s mother Gretchen, also a physician and long-time friend.

With all due respect to Ruth (currently in Haiti caring for earthquake victims) I do not agree.

For one thing, the pharmaceutical and medical equipment and supply companies seem to be doing very well. Doctors and hospitals, though they complain about inadequate payment levels, do not appear to be in any financial or other serious difficulties.

Most important of all, most Americans, so far as I can tell, are satisfied with the health care they are getting – so much so that President Obama has felt constrained on numerous occasions to assure people that if they like what they have, the reform legislation now under consideration will allow them to keep it.

Actually, this high level of satisfaction may account in large part for the difficulty the Democrats are having in maintaining public support for health reform legislation. Whatever interest people might have in improving things seems to be more than offset by worry that tinkering with the system will make things worse rather than better.

Our system has a number of faults. Too many people find it difficult to get good care because they can’t afford it or for other reasons. Care costs more than it should or needs to. Quality and safety are not what they should be. But characterizing the system as “broken” distorts reality and makes it harder to focus on practical remedies.

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