Doctor and activist

US Health System and COVID-19 11/12/20

Here is an article about the US Health system and its response to COVID. Basically it seems that the US government is subsidising COVID treatments so that they are more lucrative than treatment of other diseases, so the private operators are filling their hospitals with COVID patients whether they need to be admitted or not, and non-COVID patients are excluded.

The other thing that is interesting is that there has been a huge growth in administrators since the 1970s. It has to be understood why private health systems are so inefficient. They have to keep individual insurance databases to keep track of premiums and churn as people change funds. When someone is treated they have to account for every band aid, visit, procedure or investigation, bill the patient and pay the practitioner. They have to market their product, compete for staff, and then figure out ways to avoid paying if possible.

Universal systems have everyone eligible, so do not need to worry about who is getting treated. No need to market the system, maintain many different churning databases, compete for doctors, keep accounts for every details of every treatment and bill and pay for them individually.

In terms of better health care there is no problem of adapting to whatever disease needs the most attention as the staff are motivated to do the most effective treatments, and there is no distortion of priorities to maximise profits.

The US health system is the least effective in the developed world in terms of delivering health care. but it is the most effective at its primary object- turning sickness into money.

No one has looked too closely at why the Australian system has been able to respond. Basically our public health system is State-based hospitals, which are still largely public and have doctors who could be re-directed to testing and vaccination. They can also change to do COVID if needed, and treat disease on their merit.

The private hospitals did very well out of the government subsidies here because they were emptied ready for a COVID influx that never came and they just pocketed the cash without much publicity for this from either themselves or the Government.

Australia has continued on its previous course, which is to starve Medicare and help the private system move towards a US system by stealth, and the COVID pandemic has so far not brought this to light. What is left of the public system has done well, helped by the fact that we are an island nation, so had some warning and could act to quarantine ourselves. The government was happy to take advice from the medical professionals because it had made such a mess of not taking advice from the firefighting professionals. But Medicare is still being quietly destroyed and we are moving to a US system of private medicine.

The government saves money on Medicare doing this, even though the system is much less efficient and much less equitable. But the key reason is not the savings on Medicare, it is the money to the Party coffers from the Private Health Industry (PHI), which is now much stronger with the changes John Howard did to the Aged Care system in 1997, which made it effectively a for-profit system, and the NDIS also a for-profit system, subsidised by the taxpayer through the Medicare levee, which was ironically not being used for health. (The discussion of the Aged Care system was in one of my posts last week).

The key thing to understand in the destruction of Medicare is that the rebate to doctors which was set at 85% of the AMA fee, so as to replace private medicine, has risen at half the inflation rate for 35 years and is now 46% of the AMA rate. Doctors are paid half what they were, so specialists mostly will not use it, and GPs who still bulk bill just do shorter visits.

Here is the article on the US response to COVID. Their prevention is also hopeless, as with such a poor welfare system the people cannot afford to stop work, and the story that it was a hoax was also promoted by President Trump. The obsession with ‘individual rights’ sits uneasily with the idea of staying home for the common good, and makes disinformation campaigns easier. People wanted to believe it was a hoax, because they could not afford to stop work anyway.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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