The Recorder – My Turn: Fixing Our Health Care Sickness
Most of us remember a health care trauma that continues to haunt us. In December 2019, Timothy Snyder’s healthcare nightmare began with abdominal pain that took him to a hospital in Munich, Germany, where he was released without a diagnosis the next morning.
Twelve days later, he underwent an appendectomy in Connecticut and was released less than 24 hours later. His symptoms worsened and after another one-day stay in a Florida hospital over the holidays, he returned home to New Haven, where he was taken straight to the hospital.
Unattended for hours, Snyder was, “slowly exhaling in the alcove of the emergency room.” An African-American doctor friend who attempted to intervene on his behalf was ignored. After a botched and unnecessary lumbar puncture, doctors finally read his medical records and learned that Snyder suffered from a life-threatening condition called sepsis, resulting from a liver infection noted in his medical records but ignored during his previous hospitalizations. .
Today, Snyder still has residual symptoms from his near-death experience that left him hospitalized for weeks. A history professor at Yale University, Snyder is an internationally renowned writer and historian, but his privileged status has not shielded him from the consequences of a healthcare system that puts cost cutting ahead of patient care. . Snyder’s experience led him to examine the link between his “malaise” and our national healthcare “disease”, in his 2020 book, “Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare was a central issue heading into the 2020 presidential election. The pandemic has exposed a deeply inequitable healthcare system that has resulted in disproportionately higher death rates in people of color. We have seen millions of Americans lose not only their jobs but also their health insurance in a deeply flawed system that links access to health care to employment.
Yet today, as many of us celebrate our new vaccinated freedom to gather with friends, throw off masks, and plan vacations, the discussion about health care has faded, leaving us vulnerable. .
Snyder believes that health is a necessary condition for freedom. Those who are deprived of accessible, affordable and quality health care, who live with the fear of being a single disease of bankruptcy, who must choose between suffering from chronic pain or addiction to pain relievers, who live in a culture that encourages people to “toughen up”, rather than seek treatment, are not free.
Our two-tier health care system pits the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots’ in states where lawmakers cut the health care safety net for low-income people, while still receiving their health insurance benefits top of the line.
After World War II, the United States signed the constitution of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes health care as a basic right of all human beings. .
However, we have not joined other nations, like Japan and Germany, whose constitutions guarantee the right to health care and which coincidentally have healthier populations. The consequences of our profit-driven health care system have resulted in infant death rates born to African American women that are higher than Albania, Kazakhstan and around 70 other countries. Millennials in the United States are expected to “live shorter lives and spend more on health care,” in a system Snyder describes as “a transfer of wealth that incidentally involves some health care.”
In America, “the disease of the many becomes a profit zone for the few,” in a system where productivity robs physicians of time with patients and “what physicians know is crowded out by what pays off. ‘silver”. Snyder learned from his December nightmare that doctors are hard to get to in hospitals and that the goal is to get “the right number of bodies on just the right number of beds.”
Referrals, tests, medications and procedures are based on cost, not care. New physicians are attracted to financially lucrative specializations due to the low reimbursement rates of primary care, geriatric or pediatric physicians. Rural America has become a health care wasteland, as low-income people in cities turn to emergency rooms for health care.
Donald Trump has used the pandemic to further divide this country. He openly mocked the CDC’s guidelines and urged his supporters to declare war on leaders who prioritized protecting lives over opening the economy. He withheld vital resources from his enemies, rewarding his corporate and legislative cronies, in return for their unwavering loyalty. He has denied the worst health crisis in over a century, spending his time campaigning or on the golf course. His political ambition “outweighed” his responsibility to protect the American people, leaving our health and our freedom hanging by a thread.
The COVID vaccine has not made us immune to the risks posed by our failing healthcare system. Our health care disease is in critical condition, but Snyder believes it can be cured. His prescription:
A movement for a single payer system that provides equitable health care to all, puts decision making in the hands of health professionals and enhances the role of public health.
Snyder says, “We deserve freedom and we need drugs that work. It will assume that we all have the right to health care. Does this sound like a dream? Let it be the American.
Sara Weinberger from Easthampton is Emeritus Professor of Social Work.