HM-oh-no

Health care blows these days.

When I was a kid we had a single doctor from the time I was 3 until I was 17 or so. Anything he prescribed was available straight from his office, and his rates were quite reasonable (we had no health insurance at the time). Then my parents signed up for health coverage and although we got to pick a new doctor, any additional tests had to be approved first. When I got my first job, my health care involved picking a name out of a book, showing up to a hospital at a preset time, and spending a couple minutes with him face-to-face, with all other times spent with assistants or waiting.

The most recent health plan has taken it quite a few steps further. Now you can’t even see a doctor until you can prove to a nurse-bot on the phone that you really, really need help. Anything beyond the basics requires approval first, then subsequent appointments weeks from the date you’re feeling badly. Prescription drug coverage is scant, and no longer applies to anything besides specific directives from your primary care doctor. So this means that even though my dentist prescribes antibiotics before major dental procedures, my medical coverage will not cover it, knowing that to skip the antibiotics might mean an infection in my blood and heart, and huge medical bills down the road.

When I was a kid, I knew my doctor personally, he watched me grow up, and took an interest in his patients’ lives. Today, going to the doctor makes me feel like a carton of milk on a supermarket checkout lane. The nameless, faceless borg scans my UPC code, checks vitals, and dispenses with the minimal advice or treatment, shaving as many pennies off the cost as possible. Where there was once dignity has been replaced by mechanized efficiency.

I’m no foe of capitalism, I enjoy working hard and being rewarded based on how much I accomplish, but part of me wonders if the medical profession is best domain for purely free market economics. In the race to cut costs, I fear that the only considerations were made to those things that an exact dollar value could be placed. You can’t put a price on treating people with respect and care. You can’t put a price on privacy and dignity. Worst of all, you can’t put a price on patient well-being.

All those values seemed to have been lost when health care’s focus became the bottom line.