Originally Published: May 13, 2010 10:01 p.m.
We do not have "universal health care." We have mandatory free "health care for the universe."
A middle-aged woman came to our local emergency room, suitcase in tow, complaining of a severe headache and diminished vision. A CT scan of the head showed a brain tumor. The neurosurgeon on call was summoned and within days the patient had surgery to preserve her vision. An inspiring story giving tribute to the wonderful ingenuity, generosity, and high standards in our country? There's more.
This woman knew about her brain tumor and had already had an unsuccessful attempt at surgery in her home country. She booked a flight as a tourist, and her extended family took her directly from the airport to the emergency room. None of them had the slightest intention of paying any part of her bill. American patients, insurance subscribers, and taxpayers will subsidize the hospital, albeit inadequately. The neurosurgeon will not get paid, but will still be fully liable for any adverse outcome in our medical malpractice environment.
For foreigners, it appears that dishonesty pays. But those who are completely honest have a harder time.
The headmaster of a Christian grammar school in Liberia had an abdominal tumor the size of a football. No one in Liberia felt capable of handling such surgery, so our church arranged for him to come to that same hospital in New Jersey. Since U.S. government officials knew this man needed medical attention, he was asked to supply letters from the church guaranteeing payment for his surgery. Only then would the U.S. embassy give him a visa. The church here will fulfill its promise and pay a fair price as this is the honorable thing to do. The surgeon will be paid unless he voluntarily chooses to perform the procedure for free, and everyone is uplifted.
There will be those who say they would do anything to get medical care for a loved one. Does this mean they would steal for it? And does their need make stealing right?
Charity is a noble thing, but it cannot be mandated. Our government's requiring physicians and hospitals to provide free services to whomever walks into the ER does not represent true charity, but a taking of the services from those with valuable skills. The more that is taken, the less charity can be freely given, and all patients suffer as services become less available. Many hospitals now lack neurosurgery coverage for any patient, insured or not.
The proper channels would be for the needy to appeal to those in a position to provide charity, with a culture of generosity arising to meet the need. We learned quickly that we could not provide access to the United States for every Haitian that needed help. Instead, armies of volunteers have traveled there to help.
While illegal immigrants are not the only ones taking advantage of the "free" services here in the U.S., the situation attracts those who are willing to lie to get something for nothing. Hospitals near the border are particularly hard hit, especially by women who forgo prenatal care and show up at the ER in the second stage of labor. An added attraction is automatic American citizenship for the child. Births to illegal alien mothers constitute nearly 40 percent of all births paid for by Medi-Cal. Dozens of hospitals along the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have had to close or go bankrupt because of the unfunded federal mandate to provide free care to illegals.
The Arizona state government has passed a law making it a state offense to cross the border illegally. It is already a federal offense. How else should Arizona respond when the federal government does not take seriously its constitutional obligation to protect the U.S. borders?
Our forefathers came to this country with only the shirts on their backs, expecting nothing but an opportunity to work in freedom. They did not demand free services but worked alongside hardworking Americans to build their own American dream. That was always the promise of America and we need to be vigilant lest we lose it.
Alieta Eck, M.D., graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in New Jersey and the St. Louis School of Medicine in St. Louis. She studied internal medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., and has been in private practice with her husband in Piscataway, N.J., since 1988.