Sunday, January 18, 2009

All I want for Christmas

It’s Christmas time. [Well, okay, it’s not anymore. This was written before Christmas, but the one friend I do have reviews these posts first, and he disappeared on holiday beforehand, so I’m only getting to post it now].

It’s a hard time of year for everyone, especially if you have any sense of the ridiculous. After all, what’s the basis for Christmas? The Son of God came to the world, and told everyone that God was angry because of everyone’s injustice and greed. So naturally, we remember Jesus by giving gifts to anyone who’ll give us stuff back, and by eating and drinking far too much. We can’t even get the time of year right – though maybe it’s best that Christmas is just a pagan feast at heart.

Of course, when I’m stupid enough to say something like this to my friends, they tell me that the best part of Christmas – what it’s really all about – is spending time with my family. Well, they’re quite welcome to spend time with my family. Though if they think that’ll be fun, they don’t know my family as well as I do. So I’m back hiding in my hovel, thinking about healthcare and IT (and not before time too. Apologies for the long delay between posts – apparently our customers expected me to get some actual work done before they got to go on their family fun-time holidays).

And what I’m thinking about right now is, what will you and your loved ones – if you have any – what will you be talking about this Christmas once you’ve had too much to eat and drink, and all the presents are opened? Well, I can’t think of anything better than to talk about healthcare system reform. 

“Umm, yeah,” you’re saying, “right. What else would we talk about?”

Well, don’t blame me. Instead, you can blame Senator Tom Daschle:

Daschle wants Americans to host “holiday-season house parties to brainstorm over how best to overhaul the U.S. health-care system,” the WSJ reports.

Don’t believe me? Check out the WSJ for the whole outrage. And thanks to my spies in the USA who alerted me to this gem.

At first I laughed at this. I was pretty disappointed too. I was certainly hoping for more from the incoming administration. After eight years of the Bush power slide, we’re in desperate need of a responsible approach to prevent the inevitable, though a quick survey shows that the Democrats have quite happy competed with the Republicans to see who offers worse government (it’s a US thing: governments are bad, so we vote for bad governments). Nevertheless, I found myself hoping that “Change we can believe in” didn’t mean that kind of change the Health IT Nerd believes in, the kind that I usually see in the healthcare system – namely, just a different kind of stupid.

As I said, I thought, who’d be stupid enough to talk about healthcare policy over a Christmas meal? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we always talk about healthcare policy when my family gets together. It starts easily enough, talking about our family’s latest encounter with the healthcare system. What with the many little accidents of life – backyard, kitchen, and bedroom - and getting old (also accidental; at least, it certainly seems to happen while you’re looking the other way), the extended families of the Health IT Nerd and his suffering wife have regular encounters with the healthcare systems across the world, and whichever side of the family we have the “luck” to spend the festive season with, the subject is sure to come up.

And once the subject does come up, you can be sure of one thing: everyone is going to start complaining about how terrible the healthcare system is. After all, it’s never our fault that we needed healthcare. Actually, it’s not our fault. Since the only thing that’s sure in life is death and hospitals, it’s just because we were born. So the fact that we need healthcare is our parent’s fault – it’s important to know who to blame for all life’s ills. For this reason, the best time to talk about how to reform the healthcare system is when you get together with those whose fault it is. 

It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, either. You can be sure that everyone’s going to be complaining about the quality of the healthcare system. And also how much we have to pay for it. Again, it doesn’t matter how it gets paid for, directly, indirectly through insurance, or indirectly through taxation. We pay too much, and the quality of service sucks. 

So, this year, when you get together as families, do your patriotic duty, and brainstorm how to overhaul the U.S. health-care system, because, as Daschle points out:

There is no question that the economic health of this country is directly related to our ability to reform our health-care system

For a start, you can tell by looking at the way we celebrate Christmas, you can tell for sure that it would be a waste of time asking us to consider the healthcare system from some altruistic perspective about what would actually be good for our health. No, we definitely need to talk about money. And since there’s a war or two to fight, and the worst financial crisis this century, we need all the money we can get. 

So this year, instead of simply complaining about how poor the system is, instead, try and figure out how to pay less, either by defrauding someone, or perhaps by setting up some kind of ponzi scheme to raise enough money to pay for it (as if any kind of savings plan isn’t a ponzi scheme in the end). If that doesn’t work out for you, see if you can figure out how to overhaul the US healthcare system. And the best kind of overhaul is one that saves money – in other words, one that makes the system poorer. 

It’s kind of a game, see. Basic level, you get to plan a healthcare system assuming no constraints, like worrying about how much it costs. But anyone can design a pretty good healthcare system that way. At the intermediate level, factor in real world constraints like costs, staffing levels, and inefficiencies like organizational dysfunction. There’s a special advanced level where you also get to make allowances for things like liability funding, and on-going educational resourcing. If your family wins at that level, then you move onto wizard level, where you get to figure out how to overhaul the US healthcare system to make it better, while factoring in unreal world constraints like eating long lunches with friendly lobbyists.

No one wins the wizard level. Ever.

But it’s Christmas, so there’s no harm in hoping for the best. After all, wishes can come true. So what does the Health IT Nerd wish for?

Of course, I wish for world peace, justice for all, the end of famine, an end to bad governments, and that people would stop sponging off their richer neighbors. And in healthcare, I wish that people would stop getting sick, and that everybody would be happy to let their poor sick neighbors sponge off them.

Hmm. This isn’t going well. Though at least Bush the Second is going to be gone. I guess that’s not much a Christmas present though, since it was all organized years ago. 

No, other than a bit more of that river of gold, what I really want for Christmas is that everyone would finally come to really understand: Interoperability – it’s all about the people.

[Belated Christmas note: I sure hope you got what you wanted for Christmas. Because I didn't)