04 November 2010

Do You Want Your Health Care Run Like the Post Office?

Driving home this afternoon I saw a sticker in someone's window that asked if I wanted health care run like the post office. I have seen these before, I think people have been putting them up for a couple of years, but being stuck in traffic gives one time to think, and I began thinking about that question.

I haven't made a survey of the postal systems of the world, but I've always held the opinion that we have a pretty good one here in the USA. I am sure that there are anecdotes galore of letters taking months or years to reach their destination, mistreatment by postal bureaucrats, and various other tales -- some no doubt verifiable -- of bad experiences caused by the US Postal Service, but my personal experiences have been generally good.

One of the more frustrating Post Office stories I could tell would be about waiting in line. No one likes to wait in line, and it's infuriating to see only one or two customer windows open when there are dozens of people in the lobby. But if you are patient, you will get your turn, and be waited upon by one of the Postal Service's employees who will handle your transaction with a reasonable level of efficiency and politeness.

This is from the USPS' own site:

"The United States Postal Service delivers more mail to more addresses in a larger geographical area than any other post in the world. We deliver to more than 150 million homes, businesses and Post Office boxes in every state, city, town and borough in this country. Everyone living in the U.S. and its territories has access to postal services and pays the same postage regardless of his or her location."

That, to me, sounds like a pretty good description of how I'd like health care to be delivered.  "Every one... in the U.S... has access...and pays the same."

And consider, if you will, what kind of fees the USPS charges. For 44 cents, I can send a 3 page letter from coast to coast, in about 3 days. For about $12 I can send a 5 pound box. If it's books, CDs, or DVDs (or film, tape or vinyl records) there's a reduced rate of about $4. I think these rates are a uniform bargain, and I have never complained about the price of a first-class stamp. They probably should charge more. 

Oh, and the Post Office uses NO tax revenue. Throw that into Boston Harbor. Another fact from the USPS website: the USPS is the most trusted government agency. It would be a fine goal for the new National Health Service (if we may borrow from the UK) to become at least the second-most trusted.

So, yes. I would like my health care run like the Post Office. I know I'd have to wait in line, and follow the rules, and sometimes it might annoy me, but knowing that everyone in the country finally had the ability to access a reasonable level of care at a uniform price would go a long way toward alleviating that annoyance. Knowing that mentally ill people could get good care instead of winding up in prison or on the street would make me sleep better at night. I'd probably be healthier just knowing that pregnant women and little children would all be able to see a doctor whenever they need to, no matter where in the US they live, no matter how poor they are.