HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

The Decoupling of Health from Health Care

Posted on | December 18, 2018 | No Comments

Mike Magee

“Our health care system’s focus, at every phase of its development, but especially since its expansion and increasing sophistication since World War II, has been on maximizing opportunities for profit and/or career advancement for the players within it.” Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex (Grove Atlantic Press, coming in Spring, 2019)

In this week’s Wall Street Journal, Stanford University Hoover Institution fellow, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, reveals, without intention, American health care’s “original sin.”

Atlas is a neuroradiologist and deeply entrenched in the Medical-Industrial Complex, collecting consulting fees for “advising entrepreneurs and companies in the life sciences, medical technology, and health information technology sectors.” His world view is more than adequately reinforced by the Hoover Institution  which “seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity.”

The WSJ piece claims that U.S. health care’s dismal rankings on a global scale are “grossly flawed calculations.” Through Dr. Atlas’s lens, America’s ranking of 32nd of 35 nations in infant mortality is because we over-report compared to comparator nations; and because our mothers indulge in more harmful behaviors; and because America possesses higher rates of “racial and ethnic minorities.”

As for America’s plunging life expectancy rates (ranked 26th for men, and 29th for women), he, without irony, adopts a “Don’t blame us!” posture, pointing instead to “unhealthy lifestyle choices, violence, urbanization, marriage and economic inequality.”

As for treating the diseases that he blames on others, he celebrates America’s “superior results”, and our remarkable access to surgeries, screenings, diagnostics and drugs, without mentioning our remarkable over-consumption, our permissive risk/benefit calculus, our raging opioid epidemic, or our near half-million avoidable deaths a year in unsafe hospitals.

The reader is left with the feeling that we all live in an alternative universe, where health is decoupled from health care, where cause can not be linked to effect, and where a privileged world view comfortably co-exists with remarkable and growing levels of unconscionable inequity.

Dr. Atlas’s essay does little to advance his cause. Rather, it reveals a stubborn committment to the status-quo and adherence to American health care’s “original sin.” In the immediate post WWII period, we never asked the question, “How do we make America and all Americans healthy and productive?” We believed that we could “defeat disease” as we had “defeated the Nazis” – through high-tech, profit-driven, cross-sector collaboration. And that in defeating disease, health would be left in its wake.

Nearly seven decades later, this remarkable miscalculation is so well entrenched that members of the medical-scientific elite feel more than comfortable suggesting that America’s unhealthy culture is not their problem, and ignore the fact that our’s is the only developed nation that spends more on health care that all other social services (themselves determinants of health) combined. 

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