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Attack on U.S. health care was built on misinformation

A recent column by St. Petersburg Times writer Martin Dyckman is a perfect example of the wanton abuse of power by a top state newspaper intent on selling an unnecessary and unwarranted foreign health care system to Americans. Dyckman _ who has been recognized for journalistic excellence in the past _ does not live up to his reputation by his ignorance of the fundamental differences that exist between the American and Canadian health care systems.

Dyckman has long been a strong advocate of such a form of socialized medicine, as is his right, but his latest harangue for such a system mixes half truths, anecdotes and misrepresentations directed at what has been proved time and again to be the finest system of health care the world has ever known.

Dyckman sets the tone and his attitude toward Florida physicians in his first words, by noting gratuitously that some physicians are sued for medical malpractice when they shouldn't be.

He is no less vitriolic when without qualification he attacks hospitals for "pocketing enormous overcharges" at the expense of "overworked" hospital personnel.

Not only has Dyckman made a totally unfounded accusation, he also demon-strates that he is either naive or ignorant about the true factors contributing to the rising cost of health care. Namely, enormous and expensive technological advances unparalleled in the world and increasing demands for more health care services fueled by an ever-expanding aging population. Add to this mixture the professional liability crisis, which continually fuels the rising cost of hospital and physician services.

Studies have shown that professional liability adds $20 per day to the cost of a hospital bed in Florida and adds $1,119 to the cost of delivering every infant.

And, let's not forget the cost of defensive medicine, which runs into the billions of dollars per year nationally.

In spite of this, we still have a healthier population with a longer and better quality of life.

Dyckman then refers to an unpublished Harvard University study of the New York hospital system which reportedly says negligence of doctors and hospital staff may have contributed to 7,000 hospital deaths and 29,000 injuries in 1984.

This unpublished and unofficial study is still under review, but Dyckman somehow overlooked this fact.

But Dyckman reserves his harshestwords for the Florida Medical Association, apparently for having the effrontery to oppose the Times' relentless editorial campaign for a Canadian health care system.

Certainly, there are Americans who have inadequate or no health care coverage, and this problem must be solved. But, the Canadian health care system is not the answer.

Apparently intent on backing into the 21st century, the Times and Dyckman look longingly to the days when socialism and state control seemed the wave of the future. This mentality is a menacing threat to a health care system based on free choice.

The Canadian system is a uniquely Canadian creation, developed over a 40-year period, to function in a country with a tenth of our population, a country that despite a common language has a very different population, history, culture and attitude toward government and government's role in their personal lives.

Let's set the record straight, once and for all. First and foremost, the Canadian health care system _ contrary to what Dyckman would have us believe _ is not free. Canadians pay for their health care through higher income taxes, gasoline taxes and other hidden fees.

The Canadian system does not offer the access to the marvels of modern technology which are readily available to Americans, regardless of their financial situation.

To hold costs down, some Canadian hospitals have stopped elective procedures and eliminated outpatient clinics and intensive-care beds. Some even routinely close beds in the winter as they approach the end of their fiscal year to stay within their government-imposed budgets, regardless of the hardship this creates for their patients.

Americans are not likely to, nor should they, tolerate a system that routinely forces patients to wait six to nine months and in some cases up to four years for health care services which in many cases could be life saving.

Dyckman's final salvo is that the FMA wants to make it harder, if not impossible,

for "poor people to sue the doctors who mistreat them." These FMA legislative proposals he alludes to are, in truth, designed to help the indigent receive the medical care they need and deserve.

It is vitally important to understand that private physicians who treat the needy or indigent in Florida are taking a huge risk because these patients often have more serious and more advanced illnesses and frequently present themselves in emergency rooms in a crisis situation having no previous care.

All private physicians are seeking through these proposals, when they volunteer to help the state, is that they be granted reasonable protection from unwarranted lawsuits which cripple their ability to help the needy. They ask no more than to be protected in the same manner as a "good Samaritan" under the guidelines already established by the Legislature as a matter of good public policy.

Another proposal to allow physicians to contract with their patients for lower fees in exchange for limits to medical liability is an honest attempt to provide reasonable guidelines and expectations, along with greater access to health care for everyone, including the needy.

It might be well for Dyckman to reconsider the invitation which he has thus far rejected to participate in a mini-intern program which is readily available to him through the Pinellas County Medical Society.

This program allows laymen to accompany physicians in their daily practice for two days, experiencing first hand what physicians encounter on a daily basis.

Such exposure to the realities of modern medicine may have little impact on Dyckman, but if it does nothing more than give him honest pause to think a little longer before condemning a medical system that is the envy of the world, St. Petersburg Times readers may get a less biased perspective.

Dr. Hanley, a Clearwater pediatrician, is president of the Florida Medical Association.