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An answer for the health-care crisis

Don Rogers

Recently The New York Times and USA Today devoted cover stories to the subject, pointing to estimates of as many as 45 million Americans going without adequate health insurance, premiums far outpacing inflation, employers passing on more and more of co-payments and deductibles to employees, managed care losing its power to control costs – and all this aggravated by the country’s economic downturn.

This is not news in the High Country, of course, where especially small business has struggled horribly with insurers pulling out of the region and all things medical costing a lot more than elsewhere.

The nationwide discussion about health care peaked in 1994 with Hillary Clinton’s widely panned universal care plan, and then quieted as cost increases slowed, for which the Times credits the “advent of managed care.”



Paused might be the better reference. For like during the last recession, the problems that surfaced so spectacularly a decade ago have returned, and perhaps with more of a vengeance than back then.

Government, lost as always in a myriad issues, including the host that came with Sept. 11, 2001, has moved only incrementally on the health-care front all these years. Tinkered would be the uncharitable and all too accurate assessment.



So what now? The Times and USA Today said no one really has answers. Even Hillary Clinton, now a New York senator, tells the Times she has no road map, either.

Well, I just finished a provocative book that does. It’s “Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System,” published this summer. The author is Mel Hawkins, a longtime executive in large and small companies, including medical and long-term care providers. His degrees range from religion and philosophy to education and public affairs. He’s served on a bushel of community service boards in his community, Fort Wayne, Ind.

While he’s served in the executive ranks, he’s also endured downsizing and struggled like millions of us. He’s uniquely well-rounded intellectually and in life experience.



His perspective from nearly all windows in the health care field gives his ideas and this book more weight. I also know him personally, as the real writer and thinker in the family. He’s my brother-in-law, and a person I know to be an intriguing mix of philosophical and imminently practical.

Seems to me this is where our next great ideas come from – off the elite yet beaten paths of thought, which can fail us through orthodoxy and have done so in the health-care realm for quite some time now.

Sure, we have great research and development. U.S. advances in medicine and drugs are nothing short of miraculous, and this is a quality we must figure out how to continue. But the system also threatens to leave more and more people of ordinary means behind, with suitable care tilting toward the wealthy.

The universal health care systems, Canada’s most proximate, have their own problems with bureaucracy, mediocrity of care and lack of advancements. No one claims the answer to the Gordian knot we’ve developed is easy.

But in 165 pages, Hawkins outlines a system that brings the best of government; returns the market forces of individual consumers who weigh costs and benefits; puts the doctor in charge of care decisions; provides appropriately for every citizen with an emphasis on wellness; and redirects the immense amount of money tied in the system more directly to actual medicine and health care.

Hawkins’ blueprint is rather elegant, actually, and makes a lot of sense.

Getting there is the radical part, and rubs at what’s wrong with our political system as we know it today.

You see, Hawkins points out that so much money and effort in the health care system are tied up not in health care but in bureaucracy, businesses that profit as middle men, an insurance industry that would not be necessary if the system changed and for the better, government programs that inadequately reimburse health providers.

He shows, conclusively, I think, that this “radical surgery” of the system is possible to achieve, with providers competing for profits, patients receiving better care, all having access to proper care, while keeping alive researchers’ ability to explore advancements.

In short, there is a better way. There is an answer. It’s simple, but not easy.

A political system so readily influenced by cash, as we have let government become largely through civic apathy, will have a terrible time crossing the hurdle Hawkins lays out. He takes on industries that have grown adept at lobbying, one reason for this era of incremental, nearly useless little “reforms” of a health-care system that performs rather woefully for Americans even with the vast amount of money in it.

Hawkins has an answer for this, too, and it also is simple but not easy. The end of the book outlines a letter campaign, down to the cost of $37 a month, complete with a sample message to send to federal and state representatives. The government – and a much better health care system – is ours, if we’d only take the reins.

The electronic version of “Radical Surgery” sells for $3.95 and paperback at $11.50. The mailing address is 1stBooks Library, 2595 Vernal Pike, Bloomington, IN 47404. The better way to order is to visit the Web site address http://www.1stbooks.com/bookview/10408. It’s also available at Amazon and barnesandnoble.com, and can be ordered from any bookstore.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or at editor@vaildaily.com


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