One of the main criticisms of socialized health care — including Obamacare — is that “coverage” doesn’t mean “care.” In an inefficient medical system, having government-mandated insurance on paper doesn’t do much if a patient can’t get in to see a doctor.
Wait times of days, months, or longer, along with de-prioritization of “non-essential” cases is something that socialized systems in Canada and the U.K. have dealt with… and now similar issues are starting to emerge in California, as well.
The liberal state is facing a spike in wait times and a backlog in treatment, after an outbreak of influenza has caused widespread sickness.
“So many people have fallen sick with influenza in California that pharmacies have run out of flu medicines, emergency rooms are packed, and the death toll is rising higher than in previous years,” reported the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.
“Nationwide and in California, flu activity spiked sharply in late December and continues to grow. The emergency room at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica typically treats about 140 patients a day, but at least one day this week had more than 200 patients — mostly because of the flu.”
The death toll from flu specifically is hard to estimate because “the number of flu deaths reported by the state includes only people younger than 65 and therefore underestimates the flu’s real toll,” the Times reported.
However, in in Los Angeles County alone, 33 people have died of the flu this season and only a handful were under 65, Gunzenhauser said. That means a majority of deaths actually caused by the flu aren’t being counted that way.
Several counties in the state have such a high numbers of serious flu cases that ambulances aren’t making it to important emergency calls in a timely manner, and hospitals are overflowing with the sick.
“(E)mergency rooms are so crowded that ambulances arriving at hospitals can’t immediately unload their patients, so they’re unable to leave for incoming 911 calls,” explained the Times.
“The ambulances have to wait … and if they’re waiting there, they can’t be out on calls,” said Jose Arballo Jr. from the Riverside County Department of Public Health.
At the center of the crisis is the H3N2 virus, a strain of influenza that current flu shots don’t do a very good job of protecting against. “National health officials say the vaccine might only be about 32% effective this year,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, a health officer for Los Angeles County.
As emergency rooms run out of space and ambulances are held back from responding to calls, products that help treat the illness are also becoming scarce.
The medication oseltamivir — more commonly known as Tamiflu — is in such demand in California that patients have all but given up being able to find it.
“Caroline Bringenberg, who lives in Silver Lake, fell ill when she was visiting her family in Denver for the holidays,” explained the Times.
“When her doctor prescribed her Tamiflu on Wednesday, Bringenberg learned that a CVS pharmacy in Glassell Park was out of the medicine. All the CVS pharmacies in the area had run out, the pharmacists there told her.”
“They’re all on back order right now,” said Talia Dimaio, a clerk who works at Rancho Park Compounding Pharmacy in the Los Angeles area. “We can’t get it.”
To be fair, a powerful strain of influenza would be a serious issue no matter what health care system was in place. There’s no guarantee that, say, repealing Obamacare would have instantly equipped California to deal with this outbreak.
The government does only a handful of things well. Health coverage and medicine is not one of them, and the situation in California is an important reminder of how inefficient and top-heavy the current system is.
It’s time to look at better ways of doing things, and competition in the private sector can be a major part of the solution.
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