The severe shortage of primary care doctors in the Bennington area, which is not unlike most areas of the region, and probably the nation, illustrates the warped nature of health care in the United States.
The warp in the system stems directly from the for-profit nature of much of what we have for health care and health care insurance. It is understandable, given the profit motive we've allowed to overrun health care here, and attempts to control the runaway costs of care, that fewer doctors would stay with primary care, preferring to move into a more lucrative specialty area if they can. Otherwise, they find themselves working longer and longer hours and being paid less than those who find a financially lucrative niche.
In addition, primary care medical practices are pressured mercilessly by the demands of private insurers to cut costs and reduce benefits. Health care becomes a grueling game of get-em-in, get-em-out of the doctor's office, and of only ordering tests when absolutely unavoidable.
The required paperwork alone in dealing with private insurers bent on reducing costs by reducing or denying claims, sometimes through frustrating denials of coverage that must be fought and overturned through long hours on the phone and more paperwork, is enough to overwhelm primary care doctors and small group practices. They become like the corner store competing against Walmart.
It's no surprise then that the non-profit Bennington Free Clinic, which opened in town in 2009, has seen a spike in people who have been unable to find a primary care physician locally with a patient opening. As more longtime physicians retire or decide they can no longer practice medicine in a patient-last manner, the problem becomes ever more acute.
The only solution, it seems, is to turn to the government, whether state or local, and to grants and donations of time and money, to provide this basic service to many. Their number is growing daily.
If a single-payer, government-operated health care and insurance system would have its flaws, they are nothing compared to leaving so much of our system -- unlike most other industrialized nations -- in the hands of bean counters seeking profit. After millions were spent on propaganda and lobbying to convince lawmakers and gullible Americans that a for-profit system is somehow better, even the recently enacted health care bill fell far short of where it needs to go to effect reform.
Too many Americans and too many lawmakers afraid of opponents funded heavily by for-profit health care giants and insurers continue to believe that the current system is superior to a single-payer system like Medicare.
For those making big bucks off services that should be available to all regardless of income and reasonably priced for all, what we have now is better -- it protects their sometimes obscene profit margin.
What is happening at the Free Clinic should be a sign and a call to action toward further reform, in this state and nationally.
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