Thursday, September 06, 2007

Doctor, Doctor, gimme the news...

Does anyone ever look at numbers when other people are hollering them out? I've been hearing now for a year or more that there are between 46 and 47 million Americans without health insurance. I also just read that as of today the U.S. population stands at about 303,000,000.

Deducting those 47,000,000 from 303,000,000 would mean that about 256,000,000 Americans have medical insurance. That number sounds high; it just doesn't sound right to me.

Another statistic I just read said there are over 900,000 physicians in the U.S. In Utah, where I live, there are two M.D.'s for every 1000 residents. Two! No wonder it takes me eight weeks to see my doctor for a routine appointment.

My doctor is a woman, but another statistic, less official than anecdotal, says that about half the female physicians in this country aren't currently in practice. They are home raising kids or doing something else, maybe research.

The scariest part is the baby boomer syndrome. As that big bulge in the population starts to really hit the age barrier, say about 65 to 70, doctors offices will swell with us aging boomers. And when we get into our 70s the Alzheimer's and other types of dementia will really run wild. By then we'll have all of the young people pissed off because we'll be on Medicare and costing them major $$$.

Are we baby boomers going to be in hospitals that are run like my high school was run in the 1960s, where 3,000 kids were crammed into a building meant for half that many? My mom told me that when I was born in July, 1947, women were having babies in the hallways of the hospital. Is that what's going to happen at the end of my lifetime, too? Lying in a hallway, along with 999 other patients, waiting to see one of those two doctors?

Another thought that goes back to my first paragraph, and those 47,000,000 Americans without insurance. Where are the doctors going to come from if that many folks suddenly have medical insurance? It takes about 10 years--and a fortune in student loans--to become a doctor. It's not like we can just suddenly start appointing doctors, hiring them all from other countries (god knows we do enough of that), or just let them buy their M.D. degrees over the Internet.

I'm not advocating that anyone go without medical care. I go to a doctor when I need to. I also know what it's like to be uninsured. I grew up in a family that never had medical insurance. When we were injured we had to show a bone sticking out or a head wound with leaking brains to get Mom to take us to the doctor. If we were sick, well, we were just outta luck. We had to be knockin' on heaven's door to get Mom to take us to the clinic. Considering how my mom embarrassed me in those days I would rather have died than have her take me to a doctor, but there were times when I was too ill to resist.

Recently Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said we should have universal health care, and that people should be required to have checkups. If you thought people dodged the draft during the Vietnam War-era, wait'll you tell them they have to see a doctor. We'd all be better off seeing a doctor for preventive care, but like my mom in those past times, most people wait until something is seriously wrong before they call for medical assistance. And that'd be true even if you told them they were required to have checkups.

Just thinking about all this makes me want to pop a Valium. I suggest we have some hard choices to make about health care in this country, but wait until I have my annual doctor visit, please. I need my prescription renewed.


From a 1946 Look Magazine. Two-fisted Doc Hunter is just out of the Army and rassling with bad guys. On the top, from the same 1946 magazine, a doctor is always on the go, running from emergency to emergency. But, as this ad for Camels suggests, he can always take a few minutes and relax with a smoke.

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