The Real Danger of Socialized Medicine by Niko Karvounis

Last week The Washington Post ran a good opinion piece by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at NIH (and brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel) on the insidiousness of labeling any and all positions on health care apart from free market fundamentalism as being “socialized” medicine, doomed to failure.

Emanuel notes that “ ‘socialized medicine’ is when the doctors are state employees; when the hospitals, drugstores, home health agencies and other facilities are owned and controlled by the government…” As Emanuel rightly points out, none of the universal coverage proposals being debated in the U.S. today “can be characterized as socialized medicine. None calls for government ownership or control over U.S. hospitals, drugstores or home health agencies, or for making doctors employees of the federal or state governments.”

This is right on the money—maybe even more so than Emanuel intends. Opponents of “socialized” medicine are wrong three times over: not only do most reformers not want socialized medicine, but even European health care systems (often used as examples of socialized medicine) do not meet the criteria outlined above. Further, publicly-run health care carries with it some significant benefits that are evident right here in the U.S.

To dispel the myth of monolithic government-run European health care, look no further than Germany, where most of the population (88%) receives health care through “sickness funds"–non-profit, third-party pools of money devoted to health services. Sickness funds are built on the principle of “subsidized self-governance”: they receive public funding, but the funds must be financially self-sufficient (i.e. be able to govern themselves) and also allow a high degree of freedom on the part of patients and doctors (the former can choose their doctors and hospitals, and the latter have much flexibility in treatments).

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Preventing Hospital Errors by Howard C. Berkowitz

I have asked Howard Berkowitz to guest-blog on hospital errors.

Howard is in an unique position to write on this topic because he consults on
medical information systems for hospitals and also has been a long-time
patient. Over the years, he has taken an unusually detailed decision-making role
in his own care for heart diseases and diabetes which, he says, “has kept me
going, with bad heart genetics, at least 17 years more than my father.”

Howard also reports that “when no one else would coordinate my mother’s complex
cancer care, I did so…and I know what it is to preserve the semblance of
life, when only pain remains. Complex pain management is also one of my
interests; too few doctors know that pain should always be controllable.”

As a result of his own health problems and his parents’ illnesses, he has spent
more time in hospitals than anyone would ever want to endure. But unlike
most of us, he understood what was going on. Originally trained in microbiology
and biochemistry, Howard was doing independent research in antibiotic
resistance and working in a clinical laboratory while in high school. He
confesses that, for his 10th birthday, he asked his mother for a copy of the
Merck Index of Chemicals and Drugs. Subsequently, he built the first clinical
computer system for
Georgetown University Hospital,
developed virological systems for Electronucleonics’ “hot lab” and developed
cardiac care simulators and for the
George Washington University School of Medicine,
Office of Computer-Assisted Instruction. He also developed the first automated blood
bank laboratory tools for the Red Cross.


Full disclosure—he has two patents in process for hospital communications and staff management dedicated to keeping them informed, in real time, of patient needs.
His post follows below.

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Preventing Hospital Errors Part II by Howard C. Berkowitz

Given the medical community’s reluctance to step up and admit to mistakes, Medicare has decided to get tough, saying that it will stop reimbursing  hospitals for the thirteen adverse advents listed below. Before discussing the list, let me suggest that not all of these events are within a hospital’s control. I’ve rated the mishaps on the list from 1 to 4, with “1” indicating something that, I agree, should never happen, and “4” referring to something that, in my experience, a hospital may not be able to prevent.

    The 13 Things That Should Never Happen in a Hospital
   1. Catheter-associated urinary tract infection [2]
   2. Bed sores [1]
   3. Objects left in [THE PATIENT”S BODY] after surgery [1]
   4. Air embolism, or bubbles, in bloodstream from injection [1]
   5. Patients given incompatible blood type [1]
   6. Bloodstream Staphylococcus (staph) infection [2]
   7. Ventilator-associated pneumonia [2]
   8. Vascular-catheter-associated infection [2]
   9. Clostridium difficile-associated disease (gastrointestinal infections) [3]
  10. Drug-resistant staph infection [3]
  11. Surgical site infections [3]
  12. Wrong surgery [1]
  13. Falls [4]

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Comment on Class and Health

(To see the original post on Class and health, click here.  To add your comment, scroll down and click on “Contact” on the left-hand side of the page.)

From Alan Abrams (a.k.a. Alan_A
at the hpscleansing.com/group
community forums)

I just read Maggie
Mahar’s health blog after linking to it from an agonist.org blog on universal health care.
I then read Maggie Mahar’s blog [post] on
"Class and Health."  thus this quote:

"And yet, and yet . . . Schroeder sees reason for "cautious
optimism." Although we trail behind other countries, we are healthier than
we once were. We have reduced smoking ratse, homicide rates and motor-vehicle
accidents. Vaccines and cardiovascular drugs have improved medical care. But
progress in other areas will require "political action,"
Schroeder declares, "starting with relentless measurement of and focus on actual
health status and the actions that could improve it. Inaction
means acceptance of America’s poor
health status."

Healthier than we once were? Really?  Are…smoking, homicide rates, and
motor-vehicle accidents adequate measures of the overall improving general
health of Americans?

What about these:

  • 58 Million Overweight; 40 Million Obese; 3 Million morbidly Obese
  • Eight out of 10 over 25’s Overweight
  • 78% of American’s not meeting basic activity level recommendations
  • 25% completely Sedentary
  • 76% increase in Type II diabetes in adults 30-40 yrs old since 1990

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Class and Health

When compared to other developed countries, the U.S. ranks near the bottom on most standard measures of health. Many people assume that this is because the U.S. is more ethnically heterogeneous than the nations at the top of the rankings, such as Japan, Switzerland, and Iceland. But while it is true that within the U.S. there are enormous disparities by race and ethnic group, even when comparisons are limited to white Americans our performance is “dismal” observes Dr. Steven Schroeder in a lecture  published in the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday.

Why? It’s not the lack of universal access to healthcare" says Schroeder, though that’s important. And it’s not just that we don’t exercise enough and eat too much—though that is a major cause. But there is one factor undermining the nation’s health that we just don’t like to talk about in polite society: Class. When it comes to health, class matters.

Schroeder, who is the Distinguished Professor of Health and Health Care at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) underlines how poorly even white Americans stack up when compared to the citizens of other countries by pointing to maternal mortality as one measure of health. When you look at “all races” you find that in the U.S. 9.9 out of 100,000 women die during childbirth.  Focus solely on white women, and the number is still high—7.2 deaths out of 100,000 –especially when compared to Switzerland where only 1.4 women out of 100,000 die while giving birth.

Statistics on infant mortality reveal the same pattern: among “all races” 6.8 American children who were born alive die during infancy; limit the analysis to “whites only” and 5.7 infants die—compared to just 2.7 out of 1,000 in Iceland. .) When researchers compare maternal mortality and infant mortality in white America to rates of death in the 29 other OECD countries, white America ranks close to the bottom third in both categories.

Turn to life expectancy, and you find that white women in the U.S. can expect to live 80.5 years, only slightly longer than American women of all races (who average 80.1 years). Both groups lag far behind Japanese women (who, on average, clock 85.3 years). The gap between “all American men” (who live an average of 74.8  years) and white men in the U.S. (75.3 years) is wider—but not as wide as the gap between white men in the U.S. and men in Iceland (who live an average of 79.7 years).

“How can this be?” asks Schroeder. After all, as everyone knows, the U.S. spends far more on health care than any other nation in the world.

The answer is a stunner: the path “to better health does not generally depend on better health care,” says Schroeder. “Health is influenced by factors in five domains — genetics, social circumstances, environmental exposures, behavioral patterns, and health care. When it comes to reducing early deaths, medical care has a relatively minor role. Even if the entire U.S. population had access to excellent medical care — which it does not — only a small fraction of premature  deaths could be prevented. [my emphasis]

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