By Marsha Fretwell, M.D.
Citizen Times (Asheville, N.C.), December 7, 2017
Over the last several months, we have been reading, almost daily, about the payment negotiation conflict between Mission Hospital and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. Now we are asked to feel gratitude and relief that this conflict is resolved and we are allowed to go back to “status quo.” But what is our “status quo” for health care in our country? What impact does this type of maneuvering for more profits have on the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our citizens?
Our true “status quo” for health care in the United States is that overall, as a country, we spend more money for poorer health outcomes. Providers of care at all levels are chronically stressed and choosing to leave their practices. We, the patients, have the ever increasing anxiety of obtaining and affording health care coverage in our current for-profit system. We have all of this anxiety, not mentioning, of course, the risk of financial bankruptcy even if one should have to use that insurance.
Humans have a very elaborate and effective physical and emotional system for dealing with life threatening stress which is known as the “Fright or Flight” response. The downside of this system is that when fear and anxiety become chronic and unrelenting, the chemicals produced begin to break down normal tissues and we are more likely to become ill, both physically and emotionally.
The result: The “status quo” profit driven financing of health care is literally causing our citizens physical and emotional illness, driving up the their need for services which they already know they cannot afford.
Finally, what about the spiritual health of our country? Recently, Terry Hash, a resident of Black Mountain who is a member of HealthCare for All WNC, wrote an excellent letter to the editor reviewing a recent presentation by a panel of faith leaders representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Ethical Humanist traditions. All of them stated that caring for the sick, the poor and vulnerable were universally central to their moral tradition and practice.
I would suggest that just living in a country where the poor, sick and vulnerable are increasingly stressed for their survival is eroding the overall spiritual health of our country. History tells us that if we do not care for the vulnerable, we will become the vulnerable.
Polls indicate that a majority of citizens in the United States support a health care system in their country that is: affordable, excellent and supportive of patients and practitioners. Our current for-profit financing system has eroded all of these goals.
So, think systems change. Imagine a system where your dollars go to support excellent physical, emotional and spiritual health for yourselves, your families, your friends and for all citizens of the United States rather than the exorbitant profits for a company’s CEO and share holders.
Dr. Marsha Fretwell is a longtime member of Physicians for a National Health Program. Retired from active practice in geriatric medicine, she is now activity working with Healthcare for All of Western North Carolina seeking fundamental change in the financing of health care.