Paging Dr. Frist!

August 6th, 2003

Oh, Dr. Frist! You are wanted on the phone. Another emergency has arisen…

The facts and figures show an economy all askew as the fastest growing industry in America is the one guaranteed to be a drain on the GNP rather than a boost. Over 14% of our economy is now reported to belong to the health care sector.

The response by government officials is automatic: ” We must reign in the costs of health care.” This is political-speak for the process of transferring more costs to the patient who now is miraculously transformed from a sick person into a “consumer”. Being ill does tend to take some of the fun out of bargain hunting and drastically reduces the amount of time one has to devote to that favorite American pastime.

There is a wonderful cure for increased demands for health care services. Healthy people don’t need them. They are out there working hard, increasing the GNP and spending their hard earned dollars on goods and services that promote a healthy economy. A sick population leads to a sick economy.

Oh, Dr. Frist? Why are we so sick?

We have been looking at the wrong statistics. The numbers which represent the source of all this health care spending are more important that how much is spent answering the call of chronic illness, suffered by 90 million Americans. Yes, we have an aging population but the majority of disabilities in this country arise during our working years, not as ailing retirees.

The CDC tells us one in five adult has a disability or chronic health problem. This count does not include the outrageously high numbers of children with developmental disabilities, institutionalized adults or disabled military personnel – all of which raise the numbers even more alarmingly.

The Social Security Administration tells us that three of every ten workers will become disabled, before hitting their retirement years. Why would thirty percent of our nation’s workforce be decimated by injury or illness? Our workforce is further crippled by legions of persons who struggle to maintain their status as workers while walking the slippery slope of declining productivity from chronic ill health. Is there anyone who does not either have, or know someone who has asthma and digestive problems?

Perhaps it is time to look at the dollars which are not going to EPA enforcement of clean air and water regulations. It might be nice if the FDA could afford to independently test some of those drugs and cosmetics they approve instead of trusting the thoroughness of the manufacturer’s purchased scientists. Perhaps we can interest Congress in funding (and empowering) the USDA to actually require clean meat packaging plants and end the adulteration of our foods with residues from pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.

OSHA could do with some more money to ensure that some real air gets into our sealed office buildings. Most of us breathe in recycled molecules of carbon dioxide mixed with emissions from copiers, fax machines, heating and cooling units, carpets, compressed wood furniture; fumes from cleaning products, extermination efforts and personal products worn by colleagues.

Employers don’t have to worry because if worker are injured on the job, those cost effective worker’s compensation premiums ensure no liability to them. Even if an injured worker is able to get the state to part with some small degree of remuneration after years of legal wrangling, he or she will even have to pay their own attorney’s fees for the privilege of becoming disabled. Illness is rather cost effective for industry, saving on pensions and medical insurance premiums. Only the government and the public pay the price in the short run. Long term, the economy topples.

Dr. Frist, to surgery please! Cut out the perks to industry and use the savings to suture the gaping wounds in our public health programs. It seems to be the right time to have a physician in the majority seat of our senate. There is a lot of healing to be done.

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