Your Turn: Our health care system is a failure

You really have to wonder what kind of health care system we have when Micah Fletcher, the sole surviving hero of Jeremy Christian’s racist attack in Portland, Ore., needs a Go Fund Me page to cover his medical expenses.

Think about it. What kind of society do we live in when people go online to ask relative strangers to pay medical bills? When most people can’t afford the cost of treatment, and many can’t even afford health insurance? It’s a house of cards, a Ponzi scheme, a shack built out of cardboard and glue that can’t hold up in even a modest storm.

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, was a modest attempt to add a staircase here, change a light fixture there; it didn’t address the underlying incoherence. The House Republicans’ American Health Care Act of 2017 was even worse. Whatever the Senate comes up with, it will still be inadequate. Because the underlying assumptions are false.

Our system is based on the notion that it’s normal to be healthy and abnormal to be sick. That’s ridiculous. Everyone gets sick, just not (thankfully) everyone at the same time. And our system is based on the notion that people consume health care the way they consume, say, ice cream. But you don’t stand in front of the surgery counter in the middle of a heart attack trying to decide which surgery you feel like having today.

And to say that costs are unreasonable is an understatement. Not even a millionaire can afford it. Got mantle cell lymphoma? That will be six rounds of chemo costing $95,000 (including a $24,000 neulasta shot) each, followed by a bone marrow transplant, followed by post-transplant therapies for a total of (drum roll please)… $1 million? $2 million?

Hence the Ponzi scheme aspect, the house of cards. What other purveyor of universally needed goods prices them so that almost no one who uses them can actually afford the costs? It makes no sense.

I’m not an economist. I don’t have any solutions (although single-payer sure sounds good). But until we stop thinking of health care as something optional and of sickness as something that happens to other people, until we stop the financial shell game with its winners and losers, neither of whom deserve their fate, we won’t stand a chance of getting things right.

— Judy Roitman is a professor emerita of mathematics at the University of Kansas.