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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Part VIII: One Doctor Says Eliminate Private Health Insurance and Our Problems will Go Away

At Washington Square I spoke with a doctor who is a general practitioner in New York City. When I first interviewed him I was struck by both his passion and his compassion, but as I listened back to the interview all I really heard was, well, you're smart, you'll figure it out.

Me: What are some of the concerns that brought you here today?
Dan: We have a couple of concerns in our practice. We work with a lot of young families starting out and we see a lot of them losing their jobs, losing their health insurance, and maybe nothing impacts people's lives like losing jobs or their health insurance. Especially young people, in their twenties and thirties trying to get started, have really lost opportunities.

Dr. Dan G.
I just wondered when he came upon the 99% number.
Me: How do you feel about the new healthcare reform as it starts to get phased in?
Dan: It's certainly a very mixed thing. The US has hundreds of thousands of people go bankrupt with medical bills every year and certainly people deserve some security from going bankrupt if they develop cancer or they have a heart attack. It's very quickly [after] a person develops an illness that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills can come due, and for a lot of people their insurance may cover [them], it may not. So alot of it is as a society that we choose not give everyone security if something catastrophic happens.

Me: Are we failing at making health insurance available to people?
Dan: Anyone can go buy health insurance but you may need ten or fifteen thousand dollars to buy it. I think there's been very little success in private medical insurance. As a system really it's not worked well in any society. In the US it's been very effective in making things very expensive and certainly in promoting a lot of high-tech procedures that may or may not be beneficial, as we've certainly just seen with the PSA test. Urologists generate a lot of bills, a lot of money and a lot of procedures, and they certainly have a strong lobby now to help them sustain those things.

Me: As a doctor if you had the opportunity to fix the system, where would you focus first? Health insurance? Tort reform? Or some other area?
Dan: Well I don't see where private for-profit insurance has been an effective model, so I think public health insurance has been effective in almost every capitalist country in the world. People who have a lot of resources do okay in the current system, but people who are in the one percent who get sick generate all the costs.

I cannot disagree with him on the bulk of what he says, but his assertion that the public sector is the panacea to our healthcare problems is simply naive and misdirected.

I pressed him further on health reform, being very careful to not refer to it as Obamacare or to state my feelings on it (extreme horribleness), but other than a cat-who-ate-the-canary smile when he first said it was a "mixed thing" the good doctor was not straying from his monologue on health insurance and following the European or Canadian model.

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