To Health and Back
To understand health care and its complexities, let’s first take a look at how it is defined in the dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary defines health care as the prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions. Now that we have a definition of health care let us further explore and understand the concepts of traditional and alternative health care.
To begin with, all American health care is provided to patients by a diverse array of entities. There are nonprofit hospitals, which may be operated by county governments, state governments, religious orders, or independent nonprofit organizations. There are for-profit hospitals, which are usually operated by large private corporations. There are many outpatient clinics, which may be operated by any of the above organizations or may be a partnership of health care professionals (essentially a large medical or dental group). Finally, there are some health care professionals who individually, or in a group, practice for personal profit. Costs of medical supplies (consumables), machines, tools, and pharmaceuticals are usually passed through to the patient or their insurer.
The default legal situation has always been that the patient must pay out-of-pocket in full for all services rendered, as with any other service industry; this business model is known as “fee-for-service.” But today, fee-for-service is only for the minority of people who are not covered by any kind of insurance. Most people are covered by some kind of cost-spreading insurance which distributes the risk of illness and the cost of health care among a group of people. This means that each individual or their employer pays predictable monthly premiums, so that when any given individual needs health care, they will have to pay up-front one of the following: (1) nothing (increasingly rare), (2) a minimum part of the total cost (a deductible), or (3) a small part of the cost of every single procedure (a co-payment). The entity that provides the health care is usually not the same entity that does the task of spreading the cost of it. The exceptions are health maintenance organizations like Kaiser Permanente which run their own hospital and clinic networks to control costs, and a few employers which employ an in-house physician or even operate their own outpatient clinics. Instead, most people receive their health insurance coverage through benefits programs provided by employers. Most of the remainder is covered by government insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and various state and local programs for the poor. Either way, health care providers must bill a patient’s insurer for the cost of services rendered. The billing process is generally considered to be one of the most inefficient and wasteful parts of our health care system, for the following reasons:
(1). The lack of a...