Friday, January 28, 2011

Health Care Reform, A Doctor Weighs In

Dr. Carl N. Steeg is a retired pediatric cardiologist.  During his career, he was the Director of Pediatric Cardiology at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Politically, he is a moderate who tends to vote on issues, not parties.  At the ballot box he has voted for Democrats and Republicans alike and has supported both liberal and conservative issues, after carefully weighing the pros and cons.  Since he has spent years as an academic, as well as, seeing patients, I wanted to get his views on our changing health care system.  Here is our interview:

Q:  Why do you think health care needed an overhaul?
A:  Basic health care is a right, not a privilege. It's [now] a system built on capital and competition.  This has some advantages, but not necessarily for the greater good.  People should be as secure in their right to health care, as they are in the right for clean water, protection and security.

Q:  As a doctor, do you support the recent changes in health care?
A:  Basically I do, because it tends to move us to a universal (or single-payer, if you will, system which insures coverage for all).  The question remains at what financial sacrifice?

Q:  President Obama had to compromise to get his legislation passed.  What do you think of his plan?
A:  It moves medicine in the correct direction.  There will always be compromises.  After all, it's all politics, isn’t it?  The compromises deal primarily with financial issues, not with the basic concepts of universal coverage.

Q:  Will “Obamacare” help people?
A:  I hope so, and I believe it will.  Should there be some negative aspects, or loopholes that come to pass in which the status of certain people may actually get worse, then Obama must lead in efforts to correct these loopholes.

Q:  Can the U.S. afford President Obama's plan?
A:  I don’t know.  In my readings I haven't come up with an answer as to whether it will cost more, less, or about the same in the long run.  The question should not be can we afford it.  The question is, where are the country’s priorities.  We as a country must understand that nothing is free.  The ultimate question is, what in the way of taxes are we willing to pay in order to achieve health care reform.

Q:  Do you think the government can run a complicated system like health care efficiently?
A:  No, the country cannot run complicated systems well.  I don’t know who can run complicated systems well – computers can, maybe.  But does universal health care have to be so complicated?  There are ways to make it less complicated and more available.

Q: Explain how.
A:  The delivery of medical care can be handled by nurse practitioners for many issues that do not require the services of a doctor.  This lowers costs and makes basic care more available.  As far as less complicated, when dealing with medical providers today, you often deal with multiple insurance carriers -- who must communicate with each other.  It would be less complicated to deal with one or two.

Q: Do you see a single-payer system as inevitable?
There is little doubt in my mind that we are in the agonizing process of moving towards universal health care, such as exists almost everywhere in the world.  People want to be free of the fear of non-affordable health care, and this need will, by the demand of the people, eventually come to pass.  We Americans, imbued with our historical fear of big government, and ever historically dedicated to what we believe are our “individual rights,” will have to change.  We, as a society, will not be in a position, in the near future, where, rights such as health care will be relegated to each individual’s responsibility without thinking of the effects on our whole society.  It would cause a two-tiered system which, as medicine becomes ever more costly, shouldn't exist.

Q:  I think some Americans worry about health care moving towards a system resembling socialism.  How do you respond to these fears?
A:  Of course we already have it in the form of Medicare, don't we?  It's interesting that we provide finances for the care of all Americans over a certain age, whatever their financial status, but not for all Americans yet to reach that age.  Socialized medicine is OK after 65, but not before 65.  Weird.

Q: Having spent your career as a doctor, give us some final thoughts on what you believe we face in improving health care:
A:  [Like other industrialized countries] medical care should be available for everyone equally.  It is one of the "rights" in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and it should be a guarantee that a caring society grants to its members.  But we have to come to the realization that there are many tricky turns -- financial, philosophical, and ethical -- in our road to getting there.

Thank you, Carl, for your unique perspective.  Healthcare is already universal, in the sense that it hits everyone as a need, a concern and a big expense.

You may also enjoy:
Keeping Up With The Jones ... In Denmark
How Will Changes In Health Care Effect You?
Protecting Your Skin
Vitamins For Your Health, Is Expensive Better?


  1. The real problem is the reality of existing health care that has been in place since the advent of health insurance. Basic health care is available now via emergency room admittance. It is being paid for by the government and through steep and growing medical and insurance costs for everyone. I admire the doctor's idealism. However, with health care costs rising daily, it does not seem to offer a viable solution.

  2. I'm not sure the US is ripe for a single-payer system. Our current system satisfies 80% of the people so we don't need to destroy it. Change it? Yes.

    Perhaps increased utilization of HSAs might go a long way to cutting costs.

  3. Let's keep our minds open, and the dialogue going. I'm optimistic that if people stay informed and are willing to work together, respectfully [agreeing to disagree], we can improve health care.

  4. I think health care should not be limited to what immediate health or the basic health that hospitals can provide or health care practitioners for that matter. I think it should start with good promotion on healthy living and support to organic farmers to lower the costs of organic foods. Now that would be a long term solution albeit we won't see immediate effect.

  5. Jo,

    You are so right about good health starting with good lifestyle habits. I'm all for government polices, which support a healthy lifestyle and preventative medicine. Saves lots of money in the long run, doesn't it?

    Glad you stopped by.

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