No one in America, no matter their politics, thinks the Health Care industry is healthy. So, while I am watching closely how SCOTUS adjudicates “ObamaCare” this session, I won’t add to the debate about whether or not Americans have a right to health care.
But I will point to what I believe is the genesis of our health crisis: business.
America is the only country with a employer-funded health care. It came about during WWII when the government imposed wage freezes that made it impossible for employers to attract workers with better pay. So, companies turned to offering better benefits and created the health care benefit.
The government further encouraged this by making those insurance costs a tax-deductible business expense. Of course, families/individuals purchasing health care on their own could not write off the expense. The seeds of our corporatocracy were sewn early in this country.
There’s a great rundown on the tangled web of crap this situation created in this New York Times article. Although I don’t agree with the article’s conclusions.
Because the writer is still invested in employer-funded health care and believes it can be fixed. These are the ivory tower thoughts of a theoretician who has not stood before a board of directors and explained a craptastic quarter. It is naive to believe that business-entangled health care can work because it relies on the notion that ‘businesses care.’
I believe one of the reasons Americans are all deep in the throes of diabetic/obesity/heart-related pre-death is because our health care system is at the mercy of quarterly reports.
Public companies (including health insurance companies) in America reckon with stockholders every three months. What this means is that companies are forced to focus on three-month goals. A good quarterly report means earnings and earnings mean you keep your job. A string of bad quarterly reports and your job is history.
Really, myopic short-term focus is bad business.
If you are aren’t a public company, you focus on the long-term. You can withstand bad quarters if you know your investments and decisions are going to pay off down the road.
You take care of what you have, your tools and equipment and people, because you know that there are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and even year-long bumps. Getting sidetracked by one of those bumps can be detrimental to business.
For an example of detrimental, I point here.
These kinds of detrimental situations are the result of short term decisions corporate officers are, really, forced to make. We as a society really can’t blame them because it is the game we set up for them to play. And, yes, this includes the corporate officers of health insurance companies.*
Not to be radical but I believe the stock market has been very bad for American health care. It shifts the focus from richly supporting systems for the long-term to sticking one’s head in the sand and hoping problems don’t occur — what are the chances? — and fixing them when they do. Our medical community can keep people alive a really long time, to be sure, but most seem riddled during that long life by chronic, debilitating (and often preventable) diseases.
The stock market rewards not solving problems but having the gonads to risk the problems won’t come home to roost (of course, if every board member in America had chickens, they would know… The bird always comes home to roost.)
Our food supply, tied up in the hands of a handful of public companies, is under the same quarterly burden. So, the what drives the decisions made about our food supply is profits. This is why low-fat!, low-cholesteral!, sugar-substitute!, trans-fat free!, low sodium! products dominate the market.
Because that is what Americans buy.
And this is what I had previously believed was the whole of our food problems in America. That corporate greed was creating more crap to eat — since it is easier to engineer a Lean Cuisine for higher profit than a plain, old turnip.
But I realized this morning that the real crux of the problem is that the safety of the food supply is now moving in the direction of The American Health Care Paradigm — a system based on the idea that you can cross your fingers, close your eyes and hope disaster doesn’t befall you.
It seems our country is obsessed with ignoring problems and instead, solving the ramifications.
I was sorta slapped in the face with this realization when I read this article about how food miles are making our food supply more insecure.
The saddest excerpt is this:
“But many in the produce industry have come together to try and improve the ability to quickly trace food from field to plate.
This is good business.”
It is now good business to focus on after-the-fact. After the outbreak. After people are sick, maybe even after people die.
I suppose it is good business, of course, because for each individual company, the chances of a Listeria outbreak in their cantaloupe is pretty freaking low. So, cut a corner or two, no one will notice — we’ll make more money!
This is the problem: isn’t good for your health or the health of your kids because you/your kids because, well, at least one person, maybe a handful really, have to get really sick and/or die before the awesome traceability measures are put in place. That one person could be you.
Which is really sick and disturbing.
What bothers me about all this, aside from the sheer stupidity of the strategy, is that we are now shifting our food supply from one that is focused on keeping food safe and healthy in the first place to one that is focused on solving any problems that crop up as quickly as possible.
And that’s just crazy dangerous.
It is sorta the same way we approach Type 2 diabetes: don’t focus on actually healthy eating, focus on making better pills to manage the chronic disease. Actually, I should clarify that, it is an entirely preventable chronic disease.
And, because our health care is so tied up in the stock market, it seems there is no turning back when it comes to our approach to Type 2 diabetes.
And I fear this trend will continue because our supposedly brightest minds are focusing on dealing with ramifications of problems, not solving problems.
Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs for the Pew Health Group, says,
“Clearly the food industry has just changed enormously in the last several decades,” Olson said. “It would be virtually impossible to sit down and eat a meal and eat food that hasn’t come from all over the world.”
Which means my breakfast this morning was a Virtual Miracle!
Eggs from the hens out back cooked in butter made from milk bought from a farm downstate and accompanied by fruit from a farm one state over but still just two hours away. Lunch, BTW, will be chicken from a farmer nearby with vegetables grown in my garden.
Is it easy? No. I work my ass off in the kitchen and the garden to feed just me. I am so tired from all the canning I did this summer that I fear I really need a rest cure like celebrities take when they are “overwhelmed.”
But it isn’t “virtually impossible.”
Last I checked The Pew Charitable Trusts were a hearalded as some of our country’s finest minds. Last I checked they were supposed to be thinking up ways to help us, collectively, as a nation. In fact, in their own words:
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.
And yet, one of their own — the leader of their food programs — isn’t even aware that backyard eggs, local milk and local fruit is even possible.
Which of course is an extreme exaggeration of his point, but my point is this: we don’t need our finest brains figuring out how to solve the horrendous life-threatening problems that occur with a food system as complex as ours.
We need them to figure out how the hell to make the food system less complex.
I am not forgetting Blue Cross/Blue Shield here but because this is a hot button issue that will surely make some people crazy, I will note BCBS is a complicated web of companies/organizations that actually includes publicly-traded companies. Also, many publicly traded companies use the system for the employees and the way those programs are set up pushes the short-term bottom-line focus away from the insurer and onto the client company. Again, good health loses.