The first article, "The Department of Health and Human Services' Death Panel" (Forbes magazine, 21 November 2011), is by Steve Forbes, a publisher and businessman whose net worth is estimated at $430 million.
The second article, "Enough Is Enough" (Time Ideas, 31 October 2011) is by Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and media personality whose net worth is estimated at $7 million.
I'm pretty sure both writers are part of the 1%. Both were graduated from Ivy League universities: Mr Forbes with a history major from Princeton, Dr Oz with an undergraduate degree from Harvard, an MD from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Both are Boomers: Mr Forbes was born in 1947, Dr Oz in 1960. But despite the similarities, their views on health care couldn't be further apart.
Let's say Mr Forbes is right, the researchers are mistaken, and all men should get regular prostate exams. I am wondering how free enterprise will encourage that, given the ever-increasing number of uninsured Americans. Mr Forbes has endorsed Rick Perry for president; both men believe that health care is best handled by the private sector. It's not working so well in Governor Perry's Texas, however, according to a September 8, 2011, article in the L.A. Times. Insurance premiums are up - "when compared with incomes, insurance in Texas is less affordable than in every state but Mississippi" - as is infant mortality. "More than a quarter of Texans lack health insurance, the highest rate in the nation." Texas has some of the best hospitals in America for the rich and the well-insured, but "nearly a third of the state's children did not receive an annual physical and a teeth cleaning in 2007, placing Texas 40th in a state ranking by [the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund]." I don't imagine Texas, despite its governor's faith in private enterprise, will be offering free prostate exams any time soon.
Looked at another way, how would a federally managed health-care system prevent men from getting regular prostate exams if they really want them? A PSA test can cost as little as $45. If insurance companies, those pillars of private enterprise, stop subsidizing such tests on the grounds that the federal government says they have no proven value, will it be such a hardship for men to pay for their own tests? The poor might not be able to afford them, of course, but they're mostly uninsured and aren't getting them anyway - unless they are enrolled in some government program like Medicare or Medicaid. Yet Mr Forbes doesn't seem worried that those very programs may be cut back by politicians who favor a free-enterprise-based health-care system. His logical contradictions make the head spin.
During this four-day event, according to the CareNow website, "1,000 patients per day [were provided] with medical, dental and vision care they would not otherwise have received. A total of 7,200 procedures were performed, from dental fillings and root canals to medical exams and podiatry; from eye exams and prescription glasses to mammograms, Pap smears, immunizations and other services. Everything was offered at no cost to the patient."
Dr Oz, who has also volunteered at free clinics in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas, saw a "tide of disease and despair" in Los Angeles. A young mother whose children were insured by the state but who had no insurance herself. A young man with untreated, out-of-control diabetes who had no idea how to treat it. A woman who had lost her job and her insurance two years before, and was "too ashamed to seek help for a mass she felt in her right breast. Now the tumor had replaced her entire breast and blasted through the skin." Dr Oz writes:
At what point, I wondered that day and still wonder now, will we finally say enough? ... I don’t underestimate the complexities of implementing a health care reform law that we can all live with. As with most entitlement programs since the Great Depression, we will have to perfect health care reform over time, just as Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and others were.Which is the real "death panel" - a government agency concluding that routine PSA screenings save few lives, or a health-care system that, favoring industry profits over human needs, leaves 50.7 million Americans uninsured?
But we’re not perfecting the law; we’re fighting over it. Politicians dither and people die. Lawyers argue the merits of this or that technical point, and more blameless Americans grow sick and slip away.
*The USPSTF, according to their website, is
an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine and is composed of primary care providers (such as internists, pediatricians, family physicians, gynecologists/obstetricians, nurses, and health behavior specialists). [It] conducts scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive health care services (such as screening, counseling, and preventive medications) and develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems. These recommendations are published in the form of "Recommendation Statements."