Healing in the USA

A Retrospective Look at America’s fledging healthcare system

By Jeanne Barkemeijer De Wit

In 1950s America, getting medical care was a relatively simple process. You saw your family doctor at his office. When you were too ill to see him, he came to your home. Children received vaccinations at school or at their primary doctor’s office.

Emergency rooms were just that, a place people went during emergencies. If you didn’t have insurance or cash, many hospitals would turn you away.

During the ‘80s a number of U.S. hospitals regularly turned away patients. A great many people died as a result. Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act in 1986, largely in response to public outrage.

After EMTALA was voted into law, emergency rooms throughout the nation were swamped with indigent and uninsured sick. The government’s definition of what constitutes emergency medical care only covers a small segment of E.R. patients.

Ultimately, the government refused to reimburse hospitals for much of the care they provided to these patients.

Hospitals were in a double bind. If they refused to treat patients they faced government sanctions and fines. If they treated all patients, they were forced to eat a large portion of the costs.

Some hospitals were losing up to $10 million a day. Burdened with crippling debt, countless hospitals eventually closed their doors. Los Angeles and Orange County hospitals were hit particularly hard.

Fast forward 30 years.

Nothing is simple.

The Affordable Healthcare Act has yet to fulfill even its most basic goals. There’s a critical shortage of hospitals, clinics and doctors. Medical costs are so high that even with insurance, few people can afford care.

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[quote]The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. — Thomas Edison[/quote]

Fast Fact

The EMTALA requires all emergency rooms at hospitals participating in Medicare to provide treatment to anyone with an emergency medical condition (EMC), regardless of their ability to pay.

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