Stamp of approval
Federal healthcare agencies might learn a few lessons from the Postal Service
The sound bites should still sound familiar. It wasn’t that long ago, near the height of last summer’s town-hall furor over what would become of our country if Congress had the temerity to enact healthcare reform legislation. We were warned that the impending “government takeover of healthcare” would combine “the efficiency of the post office” and “the compassion of the Internal Revenue Service.” Or another version: “If you like the Postal Service, you’ll love socialized medicine.”
Well, as it turns out, Americans actually do like the U.S. Postal Service. A lot, judging from the results of a widely reported public opinion poll released last month by the Pew Research Center. And we’re also fairly fond of a few other agencies of the federal government, including some healthcare-related. On the other hand, we won’t mention the poll’s findings about Congress.
The results are part of Pew’s poll that set out to gauge the level of anger in the American electorate—aptly titled Distrust,
Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor.
Some 83% of those polled have a “favorable” opinion of the Postal Service, while the figure is 67% for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 58% for the Food and Drug Administration and 57% for the Veterans Affairs Department. All of those percentages, however, are decreases from a similar poll conducted in 1997-98. For the FDA, the figure is down by 17 percentage points, while the CDC dropped 12 points. The Postal Service fell 6 points while the VA saw only a 2-point drop.
Among respondents’ reasons for the flagging trust: perceived inefficiency and the belief that government is focusing on the wrong priorities.
HHS and the CMS weren’t included in the polling. Given the overall popularity of the Medicare program among America’s seniors, one would think that the agencies responsible for its administration could garner some favorable marks. But that certainly wouldn’t be the case if hospital executives and physicians were polled, given reimbursement under federal health programs. And anybody keeping track of the most recent stories on Medicare/Medicaid fraud would most certainly flunk these feds.
The ongoing amount of tax money wasted—tens of billions of dollars annually by even the most conservative estimates—is unconscionable given the nation’s budgetary freefall. Any discussion of fiscal efficiency would be a joke given the money cascading down the drain.
Maybe it’s time for the CMS and other agencies to get a few pointers from the Postal Service.
Last month’s passage of a divisive, constitutionally questionable immigration law in Arizona has proved to be a flashpoint for the issue. Once again, a push for reform is roiling the nation.
Animosity toward illegal immigrants flared repeatedly during the healthcare debate, especially regarding their consumption of healthcare resources, the contention being that they are disproportionately sucking vast sums of money—including tax dollars—out of the system.
Based on one recent study, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The study, published by Health Affairs in February, while not able to draw conclusions specifically on undocumented immigrants, uses data on the general immigrant population to make the case these people not only aren’t disproportionately high users of healthcare services, their costs come in lower than those for native populations.
While the findings did show that immigrants were somewhat more likely to have healthcare encounters classified as uncompensated care, that most likely reflects low socio-economic status and poor access to care.
This nation certainly needs to have a frank, long-overdue discussion on comprehensive immigration policy. What we don’t need is yet another round of distrust, discontent, anger and partisan rancor.