What Do We Want?

A recent article on the high cost of air ambulance service raised an old issue in our mind: How much would you be willing to pay to save the life of your loved one? Or somebody else’s loved one?

When a child is ill and running a high fever from a cause unknown, a parent would pay almost anything to get the fever down and make the child well. But, once the emergency is over, the parent looks carefully at the charges and may become upset at the cost.

Air ambulances are usually used in emergencies where the medical personnel on the ground evaluates a victim and believes the illness or injury is so severe that the trip to the hospital by ground ambulance would be life-threatening and that the most immediate full facility attention is required.

When this occurs, neither the patient nor any friend or relative, worries about the cost of air transport. They just want to get the best available medical personnel and equipment working to save the victim. It is only after the patient is stabilized and on the way to recovery that the $12,000 to $25,000 cost of the flight becomes an issue.

This observation is not a criticism of people’s conduct. It is an observation which goes to the     basic foundation of the type of health care system we want in the United States.
Do we want a system which gives basic medical, hospital and custodial care to all people? Do we want a system which gives the utmost care to all people?
Do we want a system which gives the utmost care to only people who can afford to pay?
Do we want a system which gives the utmost care to people who are lucky to be old enough to    be covered by a government system which will pay, while younger people with much longer life expectancies are left out in the cold?

To find our answer to these questions we must put ourselves in the position of a parent with a very sick child. What would we want in the way of care for that child?

The air ambulance is a good example. It is called when time appears to be of the essence. Trained, high-priced air and medical crews have to be on standby 24 hours because one never knows when an emergency call will come in.

Once on the scene, should the aircrew check the victim’s insurance papers before acting? And, if the crew finds the victim isn’t insured should they refuse him or her transportation to a hospital even if it means the person will die?

These are basic questions we must answer to have a coherent approach to health care in this country.

Slick slogans won’t solve the basic problem: Do we want a health care system that gives everyone a chance to get the medical help they need or do we want a system which favors some and ignores others?