Yesterday, I took the kids to the doctor for their school physicals. I wouldn’t normally subject you to an account of the day-to-day minutia of my personal life, but given the current debate about how we should handle health care in the United States, the details might be of interest.
We arrived – without an appointment – at a medical facility that we had not been to before. We did not have medical records with us, and the only paperwork of any kind that we had brought were the forms that needed to be filled out to enroll the kids in sports programs. When we checked in, the only thing I had to do was hand the clerk a government-issued photo ID. I did not have to fill out any insurance forms, I did not have to hand over any payment of any kind, and I didn’t touch a clipboard. Within two hours, both the children had been seen by a doctor, received physical exams, had their shot records checked and brought up to date where necessary, and I’d been given the completed school and sports forms.
That’s not fiction, and it’s not a prediction of what could happen in the future. That happened yesterday, it happened in the United States, and it happened in a health care system that’s owned and operated by the Federal Government.
That’s right. I got to use the dreaded socialized medicine yesterday, because I’ve got access to the Department of Defense’s medical system.
We didn’t have to fill out forms yesterday because all the paperwork that needed to be done to switch our primary care doctor from one in Florida to one in Alabama was done when my wife checked in to her new assignment. We didn’t need to bring records, because both facilities have access to the same electronic system. All that the clinic needed to access the records was my wife’s information.
The no appointment thing wasn’t an everyday occurrence. The military, like most health care providers, normally requires appointments for routine care. Yesterday was different because the people who run the local primary care clinic are familiar with the military lifestyle. They know that lots of families move around every summer, and that there will be a lot of people who are new to the area and need school and sports physicals this time of year. To address the demand, they set up a few days before school starts to do physical exams on a first-come, first-served basis.
Yesterday was one of those days. The primary care clinic has, I would guess, about 10 providers. They handled over 100 kids in the first two hours, and they did so with both courtesy and efficiency. They had planned ahead, and borrowed a couple of extra medics to run extra waiting areas so that the clinic wouldn’t be flooded with people. They had several people available to run the eye charts, several more doing heights and weights, and good people making sure that the paperwork was being handled correctly throughout the process.
I would probably be the last person on the planet to claim that the military health care system is perfect. It’s not. Different clinics in the system have different bosses, different patient loads, and different ways of doing things. In other places, we’ve been assigned to clinics that were not quite as focused on customer satisfaction as this one seems to be, and we know people who have had some truly bad experiences. All in all, though, we’re very happy with the military’s health care, so we continue to use it.
We don’t have to. We choose to. We have other options. The military, through the Tricare program, allows you to choose a civilian primary care doctor, and the year we lived in Texas we did just that. Unless we have to, we probably won’t again. It’s not as convenient, and the care doesn’t seem to be any better.
There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the effects of going to a single-payer health care system in this country, and there are certainly very good reasons to make sure that whatever changes we make are well-thought out, well-planned, well-executed, and (most importantly) well-funded. There are also legitimate ideological reasons to oppose a system that would have the government do something that private industry could do. But arguing that the government simply cannot provide high quality health care and good customer service is just factually wrong.
Anyone who argues otherwise just isn’t giving the military enough credit.