Look beyond the dollar sign in health care
March 23, 2010, is a date that will go down in American history as a milestone in medical reform. US President Barack Obama signed health reforms into law, lowering medical costs for Americans.
America does not have free medical care or comprehensive health insurance coverage. This is different from countries such as Canada and Cuba, which have a single, simple system of government health care. In a comprehensive system, all medical check-ups and treatments are paid for by the government from tax revenue or insurance payouts, ensuring that everyone have equal access to medical care.
Health care in the US is costly - health insurance is mainly provided by the private sector, with a few exceptions such as the Medicare and Medicaid schemes. Nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance coverage because it is unaffordable. Those who are insured still need to pay an array of high medical fees because insurers use loopholes such as age, gender and the presence of medical conditions to charge higher premiums or to deny coverage.
A major example is of rescuers who helped after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and are suffering from psychological and respiratory illnesses. Not only have they lost their jobs because of their health, they have also spent all their savings on treatments and medicines but are unable to claim insurance.
Under the reforms, the US government subsidises insurance premiums covering more than 96 per cent of the population. The main objection is that the government will have to bear all medical expenses, which will burden public coffers. However, if we think about it, medical care means more than money. It is a basic human right.
Medical care is part of welfare in Canada, England, France and Cuba. Every citizen is entitled to equal and quality treatment. It is normal to receive free treatment. In England, medicine is sold at the same price throughout the country.
The issues lie not in whether the underprivileged gets sufficient help, but in whether every person has access to fair, quality and universal treatment. Medical care is not a gesture of grace or a reward. It should rest on the moral obligation to the entire population.
Look around Hong Kong. Cheap health care is available. Yet, queues outside the public hospital never end. Patients wait more than two weeks for test results, and at least half a year to see X-rays for a painful back. Can we really use the words quality, equality and respect when talking about our medical services? The answer is blowing in the wind.