By Dr. John M. Livingston | Medical Policy Adviser
As a retired surgeon, I was sorry to hear that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders had an ischemic event—crescendo angina or a heart attack—while campaigning in Las Vegas. I know firsthand that it’s probably a relief to Sanders, his friends, family, and supporters he was being treated at a state-of-the-art medical center. I know many of the physicians and surgeons that practice at the Las Vegas hospital where Sanders underwent surgery. He is a very lucky man. He was transported to the facility within an hour and then put on a "coronary protocol" where the world’s best equipment was deployed by the world’s best physicians, nurses and technicians in an intervention that arguably saved his life. The senator and candidate for U.S. president was recovering within 8 hours of the event, and he has an excellent prognosis.
The treatment that Sanders received would probably not have been possible in any other country. This procedure is not done in Cuba; that country doesn't have the equipment or the trained physicians to do the procedure. Had he been an average bloke in any part of Western Europe, he would have gone to a state-run medical facility, where specialists are not generally available to attend to emergency patients. He would have likely died, as a result. I practiced in Europe for two years at both private Catholic and state-run hospitals. My physician friends tell me the situation has only gotten worse regarding specialty care. Of course, a man of Sanders’ stature, wealth, and position would have been taken to a private fee-for-service facility where emergent cardiovascular procedures are performed, increasing his odds of survival. Still, the medical treatment in that part of the world pales in comparison to the treatment available in the U.S.
The irony in all this is that Sanders life was saved because of the very health care system that he has been demeaning and criticizing. The equipment, and most importantly the human capital deployed, medical care providers are why patients like Sanders survive such events. The fact that a patient of Sanders’ age—he’s 78—was even considered for surgery is one of the reasons many diagnosis in our country carry a higher morbidity and mortality than in other countries where such procedures are not offered to patients that carry such high risk co-morbid conditions, like age, increased cholesterol, gout, diabetes etc.
Sanders does have valid complaints about the American healthcare system. But it’s the injection of Sanders’ beloved system of socialism—led by politicians like him along with special interest groups—that has increased costs and gotten in the way of the doctor-patient relationship. Government programs and interventions in the healthcare system have normalized price exorbitance and facilitated kickbacks between insurance companies and providers. Large hospital systems and medical associations benefit from government-facilitated monopolistic practices and lack of real transparency.
Our health care system will be fixed only when politicians get out of the way and let medical practitioners do what they do best: help patients and save lives. In future articles I will discuss about 10 other steps that could be easily made to cut health care costs in our state and country. Today, Bernie Sanders life was saved because of our nation has maintained a faith in capitalism to produce significant investments in healthcare. Those investments are under threat by people who share the same socialist ideas as Sanders.
I wish Sen. Sanders a speedy recovery, and I hope that this experience taught him something about what makes our healthcare system unique and--for now--the best on the planet. If we don't get back to our roots in the delivery of health care services, American patients—be they candidates for president or ordinary people working minimum wage jobs—will experience healthcare no better than what one can expect from a hospital in Cuba, and nobody wants to see that happen.