Elizabeth (greyautumnrain) wrote,

A Tale of Two Prostates

It seems that with all the talk about health care reform recently a lot of people are bringing up the option of a single payer system, and often they do so with the assumption that it will save a lot of money and solve a lot of problems. While I would agree that our health care system has some serious problems, I am also pretty convinced, based on what I know of other single-payer systems, that such a system would at the very least create as many problems as it solves. To illustrate this, I have a little anecdote I like to call A Tale of Two Prostates.

It was the best of times, the very best of times as far as my Dad was concerned. I am referring to the nine years Dad spent in the army. That’s where he met John. They both joined the 5th Royal Tank Regiment at the same time, left and the same time, and have been good friends ever since. Dad and John have a lot in common: they’re from similar backgrounds and have similar habits and lifestyles. The big difference is that Dad moved to New York when he left the army and John stayed in Yorkshire.

Several years ago Dad noticed that he needed to use the bathroom a little too frequently, a condition not uncommon in men or a certain age. He had health insurance through Mom’s employer, went to a doctor, and the problem was diagnosed and treated right away, long before his enlarged prostate could do anything nasty like turn cancerous. As far as we know that was the end of that, and Dad’s in pretty good health for a guy his age.

A couple of years ago John was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I don’t have the whole story, but I gather he’d been having symptoms for some time before that. John is a retired fireman, and his health service is the British NHS. I’ve no idea why he didn’t get it diagnosed and treated before it was cancerous, though since numerous British friends and relations have reported that getting care through the NHS is at the very least annoying I imagine that may have had something to do with it. The scandalous part is that he was diagnosed with cancer in October and did not receive treatment until April. Cancer has this nasty tendency to spread, a six month delay for a patient with cancer can be fatal. In John’s case he had a heart murmur, something he’d had since he was a young man, but before they would operate he had to see a cardiologist, which took a couple of months to set up, and then he had to see his oncologist again, which was another couple of months, and then he had to wait another couple of months for the surgery. By the time he actually got the surgery it was a very major operation, and he’s probably lucky to be alive.

This is just one story, but the thing is, stories like this are extremely common when it comes to the British NHS. My boss at my previous company was from Scotland, and told me that most people in the UK these days who have good jobs get private health insurance because the NHS is such a nightmare. I certainly have issues with the way health insurance works in this country, but my Dad is alive and well which counts for a lot. That’s not something I want to give up, and thus I do not want the US to move to a single payer system. The British NHS certainly isn’t the only single payer system with these issues, I’ve heard horror stories of waiting a month for an MRI for an injured knee in Canada. I think the Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot when they talk about death panels instead of real life tales of woe from other countries. People won’t die in this country because some organized panel decided that they aren’t worth treating; that’s giving the government far too much credit. If we move to a single payer system they very well might die because a receptionist insists that they just can’t fit you in any sooner, sorry. That’s what has happened with other single payer systems, and so I have every reason to believe that sooner or later it would happen here if we went to a single payer system.
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