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December 15th, 2018

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare: ***

I got terribly sick about 10 years ago.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but my illness made me learn more about the state of American health care than I had ever planned.

After a few miserable years, two hospital stays, two surgeries, and a boatload of drugs, I was feeling okay. I could hardly believe it.

I was going to waste away and die. But the American healthcare system gave me a second half to life; and a decent quality of life at that.

I feel unbelievably fortunate to live in this country in this period of history.

The American healthcare system does so much good for so many people. But eventually it won’t exist in this form. Its price tag is ridiculous and unsustainable.

In the US, we spend more than $10,000 on healthcare per person every year. Our budget crisis can be seen as simply a healthcare spending crisis. Medicare and Medicaid make up more than $1 trillion of the annual federal budget. If Washington got rid of those programs, we would have a budget surplus immediately, and for years to come.

“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” is a non-partisan, open-minded documentary that exposes how we got so wasteful and how we can do better.

In the first half of the movie, documentarians Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman follow the money to show us where it is being wasted. Specialists, they argue, order too many expensive tests and procedures because that is what they are paid to do.

Primary care physicians are under constant pressure to see as many patients as possible each day, because that’s how their practices stay in business. They don’t have time to come up with a plan to help their sick patients get well; they just have enough time to dole out more pills to mask their symptom.

Unsurprisingly, “Escape Fire” criticizes the US pharmaceutical industry. All those drug ads on TV have turned us into a nation of wasteful pill addicts. And those expensive pills are still no match for responsible diet and exercise.

Froemke and Heineman aren’t just here to bash the current system. They have several optimistic ideas about how make healthcare cheaper and better.

Instead of paying primary care physicians by how many patients they see, Froemke and Heineman propose that we pay doctors based on the health outcomes of their patients.

They also introduce us to the Cleveland Clinic, where all the doctors are paid on salary. Consequently, the doctors’ only responsibility is to cure patients and there is no incentive to perform expensive tests and unnecessary procedures.

The most intriguing solution to rising costs is the Safeway health plan. The Safeway corporation effectively pressures its employees to live healthier lives using monetary incentives. At Safeway, healthcare paycheck deductions are significantly higher for smokers, people with high cholesterol, and for those whose body mass index is over 30. 

Of course the Safeway plan works. Employees had virtually no choice but to quit smoking, eat healthier, and lose weight and the company’s healthcare costs have stopped rising every year.

However, it is hard to imagine this type of plan catching on nationwide. People do not like being told what and how much to eat. “Escape Fire” states that 70% of sickness is directly due to bad lifestyle choices. I don’t know if that’s true, but I predict that approximately 70% of sick people aren’t going to want to hear it.

“Escape Fire” is a well-made, intellectually stimulating documentary. Ultimately, it will change nothing, though. Until there is an actual crisis of funding, the current bloated system will continue unchanged. That’s because it works really well for a lot of people like me. (And because half of Congress is in the pocket of the insurance companies and big pharma).

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