Since the people of Massachusetts doomed the health care bill, the Obama administration has been trying to bridge the differences between the Senate and House health care reform bills, and will continue to do so within the next several days before the televised bipartisan health care summit on Feb. 25.
I am disconcerted that my pre-med colleagues haven't spoken against this bill that is not only going to bankrupt the nation, but also leave them and their families in debt for a longer period of time. I cannot tell whether it is an idealistic zeal for saving lives or plain ignorance in compliance with a "we'll-deal-with-it-when-we-get-there" attitude.
According to the American Medical Association, an average medical student's debt was about $160,000 in 2008, money that they have to repay by working day and night, pushing their physical and mental limits and starting at junior positions. A Brown student incurs more than half a million dollars in debt when he attends college under the Program in Liberal Medical Education without financial aid. Our medical colleagues not only have to repay their debts but also earn for themselves and their family's future; a life they start in their early thirties.
As a person from a non-medical background, I hope that I will be making a fair bit of money fresh out of college. But it will be tougher to go to bed at night knowing that a friend of mine adds a few wrinkles to his head when he deserves a better life. What further sprinkles salt on the wound is the obscene amount of taxes that we all will be paying — the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates $560 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years for a country still battling with recession.
Doctors are proud beings (and with good reason). They not only save lives but spend all their years in college studying terrifying things such as organic chemistry and physiology while having to maintain near-perfect GPAs to get into medical school followed by a good residency program. Challenging qualification exams constantly loom over their heads. Is this how our society repays those who take care of our sick and injured?
But it's not just doctors who will be adversely affected by the impending health care "reforms." Have you ever heard of the inverted microscope, artificial heart, glucose meter, MRI, or the countless innovations in American medical equipment? My colleagues pursuing jobs in biomedical engineering who pride themselves on inventing such devices would certainly find themselves in a bind. What will happen to the research organizations that now face a tax hike on medical devices from $2 billion to $3 billion (by 2018)?
A decline in incentive to work would stall growth and dampen the creativity of the awe-inspiring research and development projects undertaken across the nation. As Michelle Malkin aptly put it, "Stents don't grow on trees. They were not created, developed, marketed, or sold by government bureaucrats and lawmakers." Boston Scientific (one of America's top stent manufacturers) warned that a proposed tax in the U.S. health care reform bill that cleared the Senate Finance Committee last week could have serious consequences for the company, including job losses, the last thing we need in a recession.
Health care is an issue where every state can provide a proper representation of what its citizens want and need. For example, Lyme disease is more prevalent in the upper East Coast and upper Midwest than in other regions. The affected states can properly allocate resources to treat such diseases effectively. Letting the federal government decide who gets what via hijacking one-seventh of the economy is surely not the way to go, especially since many of us would not like to pay for some Rhode Islander's Viagra. In finance, I have been taught not to round off numbers, as every cent is to be accounted for. A rounded off health care system that has to satisfy everybody's needs will not only lead to more spending per person, but also broader, non-specialized treatment.
A stripped down version of basic treatment at any hospital that allows people to choose what services they need would work best for the American people. Words such as "required" and "necessary" force people to make decisions they don't want to make. Critics will argue that one does not need to opt for the public health care option, but the government can levy taxes on the private insurers. They, in turn, will charge one's employer more and hence lead to a reduction in one's salary, forcing one to opt out of the private plan and join the national one.
As a child, I was constantly reminded that "prevention is better than cure." I can only hope that a medical catastrophe can be prevented before an even larger one requires a cure. With that said, I'll advise my capable pre-med friends to woo that rich uncle, buy those lottery tickets and start coding.
Manas Gautam '12 gives lessons in fishing and stays clear of closed doors. He can be reached at mg (at) brown.edu.