Although I loved my previous doctor, I had a difficult time scheduling a timely appointment with her. When I last called, I was told I’d have to wait three months to schedule a routine physical. Such delays are not unusual; many Americans—including many of my friends—are having trouble getting in to see a doctor in a timely manner (although for serious emergencies Americans almost always receive fast and excellent care).
Contrast my physical exam with that of my cat. When I called my veterinarian’s office last month, I was able to schedule my cat’s routine exam within days, and she received top-notch care, complete with detailed blood analysis. Why is it, I thought, that my cat has better access to health care than I have?
Or contrast my experience with the typical experience involving any other service industry. If you call your mechanic and ask to schedule a tune-up, and he tells you you’ll have to wait three months, you’ll say “that’s ridiculous” and go somewhere else.
Why is the service Americans get from primary care doctors often substantially worse than the service we get from our veterinarians, mechanics, dentists, eye doctors, package deliverers, and so on? Here are a few indicators:
For decades the federal government has, through tax policies, pushed employers to provide employees with health insurance that covers not only emergencies and high-cost procedures but also routine care.
Consequently, many Americans pay for all their health care through insurance. This setup hides costs from both patients and doctors, and it creates massive paperwork costs for the simplest doctor visits. These costs and consumptions of the doctors’ time dramatically reduce the time they are able to spend with patients.
Through its massive Medicare welfare program, the government also largely dictates the fees that doctors can collect for their services. Because this reduces the amount of money doctors earn and burdens them with bureaucratic paperwork, many doctors are quitting, and fewer bright students are entering the field of family medicine.