Americans Seeking Health Care In Foreign Countries

A common conservative meme is to claim that US health care is superior to other countries by telling stories of people coming here from abroad to seek medical care. Often the stories of people coming here because of inadequate care at home are distorted. After all, while the US does provide excellent care in many areas, overall it does have the worst health care delivery system in the industrialized world.

If conservatives are right that a health care system should be judged based upon citizens who feel compelled to travel to other countries, our system also shows problems. Medical tourism is becoming increasingly common. While people in countries such as the UK sometimes travel because of long waits (making me relieved that a system such as they have in the UK is not being considered in the United States), many Americans travel to other countries because of cost. According to Newsweek, more than twenty percent of American medical tourists surveyed had no medical insurance.

For the real bargain hunters, USA Today provides a nearby option:

It sounds almost too good to be true: a health care plan with no limits, no deductibles, free medicines, tests, X-rays, eyeglasses, even dental work — all for a flat fee of $250 or less a year.

To get it, you just have to move to Mexico.

As the United States debates an overhaul of its health care system, thousands of American retirees in Mexico have quietly found a solution of their own, signing up for the health care plan run by the Mexican Social Security Institute.

The system has flaws, the facilities aren’t cutting-edge, and the deal may not last long because the Mexican government said in a recent report that it is “notorious” for losing money. But for now, retirees say they’re getting a bargain.

“It was one of the primary reasons I moved here,” said Judy Harvey of Prescott Valley, who now lives in Alamos, Sonora. “I couldn’t afford health care in the United States. … To me, this is the best system that there is.”

It’s unclear how many Americans use IMSS, but with between 40,000 and 80,000 U.S. retirees living in Mexico, the number probably runs “well into the thousands,” said David Warner, a public policy professor at the University of Texas.

“They take very good care of us,” said Jessica Moyal, 59, of Hollywood, Fla., who now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a popular retirement enclave for Americans.

Blood Brothers Against Health Care Reform

Earlier I discussed the measures which the Democrats might resort to in order to pass health care reform. It appears that some Republicans are considering even more extreme measures to try to block it:

“This [health care reform] cannot pass…What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass,” – Michele Bachman.

If you think about it, you might realize that slitting their wrists would be counterproductive by reducing the number of conservatives able to vote against health care reform. Of course anyone thinking about it would also realize that the reasons the Republicans give for voting against health care reform generally make no sense. After all, the measures which the Republicans are talking about have little to do with what is actually being proposed.

Huckabee Takes Kerry’s Idea

Ezra Klein quotes Mike Huckabee:

I want to see improvements in health care, too. But I think a better way to honor Ted Kennedy would be to ensure that every American has access to the latest private health care, as good as what senators receive

Matthew Yglesias likes the idea:

What’s interesting is that though you sometimes hear conservatives toss this kind of line off, they never really bore deep down and try to formulate it into a plan. But you could really do this. Senators don’t get private health care from magical fairies, they’re enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program just like lots of other people. Indeed, the federal government is the largest employer in the United States. This is a form of government-provided health insurance that just happens to be provided exclusively to civilian workers in the federal government. But it could be provided to more people.

Actually this was the major point in John Kerry’s health care proposal in 2004–opening up the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to everyone who wants to buy in. Would Republicans like Huckabee go for it? No, back then they described Kerry’s plan as a “government take over of health care.”

Conservatives Consider Pelosi and Jazz Unpatriotic

Yesterday I noted that even some conservatives are getting fed up with the nuttiness coming from the conservative movement. It would seem that other conservatives have responded by showing that they can be as nutty as they want. Here is the latest thing they are whining about in the wingnut universe:

Why Does Nancy Pelosi Have a Problem With Patriotic Music?

If you’ve ever been stuck on hold with a congressional office in the past, at least you’ve been able to enjoy some good patriotic music, as opposed to the lilting tones of generic smooth jazz that have been driving elevator users insane for decades. For years, congressional offices have played patriotic anthems as the background music during hold times.

Not any more. After we were startled by the hold music when we called a House office recently, sources on Capitol Hill informed us this week that the Democratic House leadership has made a sweeping decision that congressional offices now have the options of “smooth jazz” elevator music or no music at all.

Several other conservative blogs have taken up this cause. Don’t they realize how uniquely American jazz is? We might even use this to ask why conservatives hate America–but of course we won’t as we aren’t crazy like they are.

As bizarre as it is that they would make an issue of this, they apparently have been successful, thanks to one of our far right Republicans here in Western Michigan. Fred Upton has made an issue of this in Congress. Now that this is settled, wingnuts can go back to worrying about more important things, like fluoride in the water or what type of mustard Barack Obama puts on his hamburgers. Personally I’m about to go from Western Michigan to Mackinac Island for the Labor Day Jazz Weekend at Grand Hotel. I’ll be listening to Jazz under a row of flags at Grand Hotel. Does this look unpatriotic? (Photo from Jazz Weekend 2008).


Update: Think Progress has a more realistic account of the story than is being told on the right wing sites:

Here’s what happened: Congressional offices have traditionally been able to have a choice of music or no music. The CD that had been in the congressional muzak system for “a long time” was a “patriotic tunes CD.” The CAO’s office wanted to test a program giving people a choice of multiple CDs and decided to try out a jazz CD because it’s “what a lot of companies have when you’re on hold.” However, based on the feedback they received, they simply decided to go back to the old system.

Now the right wingers can go back to protesting the NAFTA superhighway or questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

Using Budget Reconcilliation To Pass Health Care Reform

I’ve generally tried to do the opposite of the news media and concentrate on how health care reform will affect medical care as opposed to dwelling on the horse race aspects of getting this through Congress. I’ll make an exception to point out one post worth reading. Brian Buetler runs through some of the complexities of using budget reconciliation to get health care reform through the Senate.

Budget reconciliation only requires a simple majority while otherwise it requires sixty votes to stop a filibuster. If the Democrats resort to this, it might become necessary to alter the bill to meet the requirements of a budget reconciliation measure. The irony here is that a more robust public option which has greater impact on the budget than the public option which is now being proposed might have an easier time meeting the procedural demands of the reconciliation process. Therefore if the Republicans filibuster health care reform it is possible that the result will be an even larger public plan. However it is also possible that this might lead some conservative Democrats to oppose the plan, possibly making it more difficult to achieve a majority vote.

Confusion Over Health Care Reform

A new CBS poll shows that most Americans are confused over health care reform. That is certainly clear from the comments I receive here where people complain about things which are totally different from what is in any of the actual bills under consideration. It is also clear when every day I have patients asking whether I’d still be able to be their doctor if this is passed, along with repeating other misconceptions being spread.

There are many reasons for this confusion.

First of all, our health care system is already confusing, and any major legislation to change it will wind up sounding confusing to those who do not deal with such subjects on a regular basis.

It doesn’t help matters that the media is concentrating on the horse race of getting health care reform passed as opposed to doing more to explain what is actually being proposed.

If people wouldn’t already be naturally confused enough, the situation is made much worse by the massive amount of misinformation being spread by the right wing. Many of these distortions are fed to conservatives and libertarians directly from the insurance industry. The complexity of the legislation, along with insufficient counter-information from the media, makes it easier for right wingers to spread their distortions.

Finally, the timing has been a problem. Obama’s goal was to have a bill passed by Congress before the August recess, but both the complexity of the issue and the opposition from conservatives made it unrealistic to meet this goal. It would be much easier to explain the specifics of health care reform if there was a single bill. Instead there are several bills under consideration making it impossible to explain exactly the final legislation will say.

Some fault Obama for this but it must also be considered that allowing the two houses of Congress to debate and ultimately pass the legislation is how the system is supposed to work. It is preferable to Hillary Clinton’s approach of writing a specific program in secret and then trying to jam it down the throat of Congress. That didn’t work out too well either.

Marc Ambinder writes that Obama does plan to address this confusion by giving more specific guidelines as to what the legislation should include and some of the ideas will be rebranded as Obama’s. Whether this works will be the ultimate test of Obama’s powers of communication and persuasion.