President Barack Obama has made health care a top priority in his short tenure. The approval of his health bill by the House of Representatives on Nov. 7 has only intensified the debate that has swept the country concerning how the government should reform the current health care system.
Cornell is no exception. The Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity held a panel last night informing students about the current state of health care and its future. “People at Cornell can be misled by the media into thinking certain things on this issue, here they can get straightforward answers to their questions,” said Marcus Mitchell ’10, member of Alpha Phi Alpha.
The seven-man panel including professors, doctors, medical consultants and representatives from the Cornell Republicans and Democrats, voiced their opinions to a crowded Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium.
The discussion began with the shortcomings of the current healthcare system, with panelists agreeing on the large number of uninsured Americans as the chief problem. The exact number of uninsured Americans, however, was a point of debate for some on the panel.
According to Ray Mensah ’11, representative for the Cornell Republicans, a figure of 47 million uninsured Americans is frequently cited in news reports — which he finds misleading. Mensah said the number includes some 10-13 million non-citizens who would not benefit from a new plan and therefore should not be counted.
Dr. Sinan Ünür, member of the Freedom and Free Societies program, shed more doubt on the numbers citing the retrospective question the census poses on healthcare as faulty. According to Ünür, someone experiencing a short stint without insurance is deemed uninsured regardless of whether they receive insurance later in the year, translating into bloated figures.
Figures aside, the panel agreed in citing expensive insurance plans as hampering our current system, leaving many citizens unable to afford care. In comparison to other countries, the United States spends more on health care but conversely ranks far from the top for quality of care.
Prof. Sean Nicholson, policy analysis and management, attributed this contrast to higher incomes paid to physicians and more money spent on technology in the United States. According to Nicholson, the United States would be better served focusing less on new technology regularly going unused in hospitals. “In the end how valuable is it to have all this innovative technology if we’re not using it that often and all it does is make us pay more for services,” Nicholson said.
Prof. John M. Kuder, policy analysis and management, echoed Nicholson, pointing to three MRI machines in Ithaca largely underused. He also pointed out that such technology encourages physicians to use them even if they are not needed. “You go to a doctor now saying you’re sick and they might suggest an MRI, they do this because the hospital has to pay for this machine and the more people they put through it the easier that is to do,” Kuder said.
Jud Kilgore, M.D., local doctor in Ithaca disagreed with Nicholson and Kuder. According to Kilgore, technology is essential for doctors to keep with conditions and provide care faster. Although Kilgorson conceded that such technology can be expensive to buy and train people for, he still buy and train people for, he still believes it is necessary. “Some are used several times a day, and some not at all. However, I think its better to have them and not need them, than not have them at all,” Kilgore said.
One of the more emotional questions posed to the panel was whether preexisting conditions should be taken into account when determining who is eligible for health insurance. Wilson Baldwin ’10, representative of the Cornell Democrats, cited the question of preexisting conditions as a case of a clear moral right and wrong. According to Baldwin, it is immoral to deny healthcare — and to ultimately allow harm — because of preexisting conditions.
On the other hand, Ünür believes the answer lies in the definition of insurance, which he describes as something you buy before something bad happens in case something bad happens to you. “Someone trying to get insurance after they are already sick is almost the same as someone seeking to buy fire insurance after their home has already burnt down,” Ünür said.
Barack Obama’s legislation and his proposed public option was the last item of debate for the panelists. Some favored the proposal while others opposed it. Nonetheless, all conceded that the final bill will most likely not include a public option.
The reason, according to Ünür, is that a public option will ultimately push out private companies, encouraging people to take more risks. Ünür believes more will opt for the public option, leaving private insurance to fend for itself. He also believe that availability of the public option would cause people to engage in riskier behavior because they don't have to fear being uninsured.
In the media, the public option has attracted socialist and communist tags, which Prof. Kuder believed to be the main issue facing the debate over health care reform. The debate has turned into an ideological one, breeding more arguments and less action, according to Kuder.
“A lot of debate over health care is uniformed because it’s a complicated subject, and when presented with complicated issues like this, people fall back on ideology and that is a mistake,” Kuder said.