Junkfood Science: Our future?

May 31, 2007

Our future?

Another woman has been denied a hip operation to relieve her of debilitating pain because she was deemed “too fat” by the government...by six pounds. But even if it had been 106 pounds, this story would just the same. She was another of millions of patients who will be denied care as part of efforts in the UK to contain healthcare costs. As reported here last month, joint surgeries are being rationed as its healthcare system faces “huge cash deficits,” beginning with those seen as un-deserving.

Most Americans will probably find this story upsetting and would probably agree that whether a patient looks like or if he/she abides by what the government decides is a “healthy lifestyle” should have nothing to do with access to needed medical care. Especially, when the reasons being used to justify who gets limited resources are not evidence-based. Today, the Sun reports:

Too fat for op at a size 14

A WOMAN was denied a hip op because she is SIX POUNDS overweight. Anjelica Allan, 49, is a size 14, smaller than the UK female average of 16. But NHS chiefs turned her down to save cash. Last night Anjelica, who is in terrible pain, said: “The decision is ruining my life. I’m not obese and I eat healthily. I hate junk food.”

Anjelica...has had to stop work because she can barely move. She added: “As soon as I get my new hip I’ll be up and about.” Lincs Primary Care Trust — £35million in debt last year — admitted it aimed to save £500,000 a year by reducing hip and knee replacements....

As was discussed in an earlier post, some Americans are advocating for a similar government healthcare system here. The realities of universal healthcare, as is available in the UK or Canada, however, rarely become part of the discussions. We hear only of the crisis of our system and huge numbers of Americans not being able to afford or get care. What is problematic in sorting through the claims, however, is that each paper defines “adequate” medical care differently. A disturbingly large number of them embellish their figures by including preventive “wellness” screenings and interventions being promoted by various insurer, special interest or government programs that some might argue against. Others leave it totally undefined and leave it up to the person answering the survey question to decide.

Coincidentally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s MMWR Weekly Report for June 1st was just released this morning with timely QuickStats from the latest U.S. National Health Interview Survey. It reported:

In 2005, approximately 7 percent of persons delayed medical care during the preceding year because of worry about the cost, and another 5 percent did not receive needed medical care because they could not afford it. Persons whose health was assessed as fair or poor were four to five times as likely as persons whose health was assessed as excellent or very good to delay or not receive needed medical care because of cost.

The sad realities of medical care means some of us do put off non-emergent care for financial reasons. But, of course, everyone taken to an emergency room will receive lifesaving emergency care. And our country does try to care for the poorest among us. All poor children, for instance, are eligible for Medicaid and there are subsidized clinics and federal children’s programs (such as Women, Infants, and Children - WIC) to help them receive some preventive care and immunizations. Still, as disturbing as those CDC figures on delayed care are, that recent Frazier Institute report from Canada put them into perspective. It reported:

Of [Canadian] patients who received health-care services in 2005, 11 percent waited longer than three months to see a specialist; 17 percent waited longer than three months to get necessary non-emergency surgery; and 12 percent waited longer than three months to get necessary diagnostic tests.

The worsening financial situation in the Canadian healthcare system was made real this morning when the Canadian news put a face to it. It reported that available resources and services are in such short supply there, a woman and mother of three children had her brain surgery postponed six times. Sadder was learning that she is not alone. This is a tragic story:

Woman’s 6 nixed surgeries draw fire

“This is a human example of what we mean when [we say] there isn't enough capacity," [NDP health critic Adrian] Dix said. “The number of surgeries that have been cancelled has become epidemic at Royal Columbian."

In March 2006, Mary Lou Frye had a seizure and drove off the Fraser Highway into a ditch. A CAT scan revealed a golf ball-sized tumour behind her left eye. She had surgery in May 2006, but bleeding cut the operation short, leaving part of the tumour. She now has two tumours in her brain, but since January Frye has had her surgery postponed six times, the latest last Friday when four other neurosurgery cases were also postponed.

The previous day, four neurosurgery cases were postponed due to a lack of beds. Meanwhile, Frye, 64, who raised three kids as a single mom, is failing. Doctors have declared her urgent...

Last week, the chief of surgery at Royal Columbian said he had cancelled more than 70 elective surgeries this month....

None of us would wish this for ourselves or our loved ones. Before we jump behind ideas to completely dispense with America’s healthcare system and replace it with ones like these, let’s be sure we have all the facts. Perhaps, we can learn from these countries and look for ways to improve things without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Bookmark and Share