Venezuelan health care system collapsing
posted at 10:41 am on November 6, 2013 by Steve Eggleston
The Associated Press ran a surprisingly scathing look at the current state of health care in Venezuela, In a word, the whole system, and especially the parts run by the government as part of a 1999 constitutional mandate to provide “free” universal health care, is collapsing:
Driving the crisis in health care are the same forces that have left Venezuelans scrambling to find toilet paper, milk and automobile parts. Economists blame government mismanagement and currency controls set by the late President Hugo Chavez for inflation pushing 50 percent annually. The government controls the dollars needed to buy medical supplies and has simply not made enough available….
Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela’s downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez’s death from cancer in March. Doctors say it’s impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn’t keep such numbers, just as it hasn’t published health statistics since 2010.
Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions.
Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines, precisely what (Evelina) Gonzalez will need once her tumor is removed, are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients – meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, said Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.
No wonder Venezuela needs a Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness – people are not naturally happy when they are sick and cannot depend on their government-provided doctors to get them better. Speaking of those doctors, the AP notes that half of the doctors that were on the public system when former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to power left practice.
The privately-run portion is a bit better, enough so that the government employees get treated in that system instead of the publicly-run one. Still, there are problems that look familiar to those who deal with Medicare and Medicaid:
Venezuela’s 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which must be imported, said Dr. Carlos Rosales, president of the association that represents them.
The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country’s patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance. Rosales said insurers, many state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and it is nearly impossible to meet payrolls and pay suppliers.
Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer.
Gee, who knew that late and woefully-inadequate compensation from government to private doctors would be a problem?
As I usually do, I recommend reading the whole article. The AP writer does a good human-interest look at the saga of Evelina Gonzalez, a 30-something woman of limited means (even for Venezuela) with breast cancer who, thanks to the willful abandonment of the citizenry’s acute health issues by the state, now has had the cancer spread to her lymph nodes. I especially recommend those who unthinkingly vote Democrat in the vain hope of winning the welfare equivalent of the lottery to read what is happening to one of their soulmates.
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