DR. HOOK-Black belt?: Healthcare providers can't qualify

Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art that involves a lot of kicking, concentration, and kimchi. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of kimchi to be able to break a cinderblock with your bare hand. I went to Philadelphia (the City of Motherly Love, according to Homer Simpson) to see my 10-year-old nephew's black belt ceremony. I was truly amazed to be there to honor the new black belts.

The focus of the ceremony wasn't on breaking wood with bare hands or swinging nunchucks at 1,000 RPMs (though my nephew doesn't give me an inch on his Xbox karate video game). It was about commitment, honor, and leadership. So where is the leadership in medical world?

Okay, I'll be the first to say that Medicare is not perfect. In fact, it's far from perfect, but it does provide healthcare benefits for our senior citizens and for people who are permanently disabled. Also our indigent children get Medicaid– which is far from perfect as well. So with these two programs, we already have something of a national healthcare system. Still, between 37 and 47 million Americans aren't insured. It's only going to get worse the way things are going. Should there be national healthcare?

I'm writing this as a practicing physician, an employer who provides full health benefits to his employees, and as a patient. Our capitalistic paradigm for health insurance makes tons of money for the insurance people, leaving the rest of us in the cold to catch pneumonia (okay, you don't catch pneumonia from the cold, but it's a catchy expression). My business's health insurance premiums went up an additional $2,000/year/person– and I don't even use my insurance! Because premiums are becoming astronomically high like Oprah Winfrey's salary, small businesses like mine are going to fail. 

People who are self-employed are really in a dilemma with getting health insurance. Either they can't afford it, or insurance will turn them down for having a history of a bleeding hangnail. 

I just love the way the current model for managed care focuses on the doctors, while others in the medical field are making and wasting money like water, pharmaceutical lobbyists are best buddies with representatives on Capitol Hill, and ancillary services keep their medical practices alive by charging more and more. Sorry, but smarter college students aren't going into medical school, and fewer than 25 percent of current medical students are going into primary care, the lowest paid field. 

I'm not bitter. I'm tired. I'm supposed to be at the peak of my medical career; instead I feel like a former child actor, washed up by the system. (Speaking of which, did you see the reality show on Peter Brady– Christopher Knight?)

I suppose a reader might say, "Not everyone is supposed to live a long productive life," like on the satire movie Thank You for Smoking. But if you believe in this philosophy, are you willing to give up your health insurance? Better yet, are you willing to pay for your own insurance only to get benefits so lousy they make a Yugo look like a Mercedes?

I do think patients must be responsible for their own health, and that will cost money. But at this point, I just see too many patients getting karate chopped by the current healthcare system. I don't think our country has a black belt in healthcare. I don't have the answers, but I know they have to come... soon! 

Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.