Dr. House And Mr. Obama

David Stokes
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Posted: Jul 26, 2009 12:00 AM

If healthcare reform, Obama style, gets traction and becomes the new reality in America, one completely overlooked consequence will be that the highly-popular television show, HOUSE, will have to say “yes, we can” and go off the air. Or at-the-least, the program will have to be shortened to one act, focused completely on a waiting room and with the only dramatic tension being just which one test the team will choose to run.

If you are not a regular viewer, what you need to know is that the fictional Dr. Gregory House, played by British actor Hugh Laurie, is a medical genius. He heads up a team of brilliant diagnosticians at a New Jersey teaching hospital and each episode necessarily involves a quest, via many tests and approaches, to figure out what usually-obscure illness threatens the life of the patient du jour.

It’s Sherlock Holmes in an emergency room stuff – sort of a “what done it?”

A few years ago, I had some pain in my chest and went to a local emergency room. I was admitted to the hospital for some tests. They put me on a treadmill, wired me for sound, and later did this thing called a “chemical stress test.” That’s code for: “Injection of weapons grade uranium into patient to cause meltdown.” There was one more test they could have done. In fact, one doctor strongly recommended it. It is called cardiac catheterization. A doctor inserts a thin plastic tube into an artery or vein in the arm or leg. From there it can be advanced into the chambers of the heart or into the coronary arteries.

The test is really the gold standard when it comes to diagnosing a heart problem. It’s also apparently quite expensive. Alas, the good doctor who wanted to see it done was overruled by my HMO – I won’t mention the name of the company, let’s just say it sounds a little bit like “Permanent Czar.”

I passed all the tests – no heart problem – and headed home. But my wife and I had a nagging question: Would that heart catheterization test have been a smart thing to have?

Over the next several days I received calls and emails from friends all over the country and I began to notice an anecdotal trend. I heard testimony from people who had gone through what I had experienced, with all tests coming back fine, only to do the heart catheterization and find a serious arterial blockage requiring emergency surgery.

One such call was from my favorite liberal Democrat and good friend, Bob Beckel. He told the same story – test after test came back negative, then the heart cath and a trip to multiple by-pass land. He and others told me to pitch a fit with my czarist (Germanic form) health insurance company and keep doing so until they agreed to pay for the test. So I did.

Already-too-long story short, I had the heart catheterization test done four months after my hospitalization, and thankfully it also indicated that there was nothing wrong; except for the stress of having to go through that period, fighting all the way, to get what could and should have been done during my prior hospital stay. That would have saved time, maybe even a little money.

Now, here is my question: How is health care reform ala Obama going to do anything other than make it even harder to get such a test done?

Does anyone without a power-grab agenda seriously believe that government-run health care will make it more likely that an expensive test will be run after several others have indicated no problem? Calling Dr. House, Dr. Cuddy, Dr. House – I mean, really?

Many doctors already have to fight hospital administrators and health insurance companies en route to quality patient care. Just ask them. Will placing another level of authority over them, ceding more local turf to the feds, make things better?

Frankly, when I take a look at what health care could become in America if we don’t collectively say “No, we can’t,” I find myself pretty cool with my HMO. I know they get a bad rap, but if we don’t watch it, there will come a time when we look back and nostalgically refer to right now as “the good old days.”

Sure, some stuff is broken and needs to be fixed. Why not start with tort reform? Why are we not hearing about this from the White House and the Democrats in Congress?

Follow the money.

I actually think the whole issue is being framed incorrectly and therefore it is easily subject to misunderstanding, even manipulation. We don’t need health care reform. Our standard of care is pretty good. No, what people are really talking about is health coverage reform. But no plan on the table right now is able to even suggest the broadening of coverage to include those millions who don’t now have insurance, without compromising the quality of care.

We are at a crossroads on this issue as a culture. And many Americans – certainly many politicians – seem more than willing to trade our high standard of quality care for a model that dumbs it all down. We are on the verge of selling our national soul for a mess of perilous pottage, and in the end we will all suffer. Most of that suffering will be in long lines or crowded waiting rooms.

Has there ever been a situation in our history where increased government involvement in the actual running of something (not mere oversight, but managing the details day to day) has turned out to be a cost cutter? Anyone? Anyone?

Creating a system whereby a significant number of people can get a service for free that others must pay for does not tend to keep overall costs down. In fact, they skyrocket, placing an even greater burden on those who pay. It’s misguided compassion and inherently based on class-envy.

And don’t even get me started on the whole privacy-medical-records thing. Recently, I had a conversation with a family – military people – and they have been looking forward to a particular promotion. The problem was with a visit to the doctor a while back and the casual mentioning of “anxiety” to the physician. This led to the insertion of a comment on the computerized record that found its way to a decision maker on the promotion issue. Bottom line, the advance was nixed. Not because of any real issue, but because an annotation carelessly made, and subject to misinterpretation, became part of the record extant.

Welcome to your future if the Dems have their way with one fifth of the U.S. economy.

Finally, as I finish my health care rant, I can’t help but bring up the issue of evangelicals and Obama, at least in the context of so many younger ones lending him their support last fall. My conversations with many young-Obama-evangelicals suggested that the number one reason they were willing to, in effect, abandon vital conservative evangelical positions such as the pro-life issue, had to do with temporal concerns and compassion, particularly the idea of providing universal health care.

Now, six months into his administration, and as the details of his plan (or stealthy lack thereof) come into at least marginally better focus, I wonder if some of those hip “values” voters who bought into the mania have any remorse? And when his plans sink under the weight of their sheer audacity, will it have been worth it?

Maybe many will be dazed and confused and left to ponder life without utopian fixes and reflecting as Dr. House did in episode number 119: "It does tell us something. Though I have no idea what."