The Hospital (1971): Return Check-In

What you figure out very quickly in the film, The Hospital, is that American healthcare is a fucked up mess. And this was almost 50 years ago! Sadly, while medical technology has made incredible leaps, the cost and availability for millions of Americans, is out of reach. I blame for-profit medical corporations and insurance companies who are in business to make money, not to make people well.

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Insurance companies are the worst American invention. What started as a system of spreading cost and risk to provide coverage at a reasonable price, is now all about profit, including denying people procedures.  For- profit medicine and healthcare have become incompatible. As a wealthy country, why are there so many people uninsured or have insurance that is mostly worthless, the highest drug costs in the civilized world and tens of thousands of people are driven into bankruptcy every year.

In America we have insurance-driven health decisions. How many of you have had to appeal denial of coverage or cost? I have. What a joke. Insurance companies have us by the short hairs.

We have some great doctors, well-trained, highly competent and compassionate. Many people are afraid of losing their doctors if the we have Medicare for all or something resembling universal healthcare. That’s the propaganda and scare tactics. If we de-emphasize the profit motive of healthcare, the worst that might happen is more people become healthy, we don’t drive millions into medical bankruptcy and our happiness quotient might surpass that of Scandinavia. My God, the end of the world! Socialism here we come.  Here’s a secret, our capitalistic society already has threads of socialism, yet high-minded folks rationalize them as either good for business or price supports.  Word gymnastics.

I am not against profit, but we need to de-emphasize, not eliminate profit. We are told that we cannot afford government subsidized healthcare. Yet, military spending continues to explode, there are continuing tax breaks for corporations, the largest pay little or no income tax, and the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans have been slashed. The richest 10% of Americans hold 70% of the wealth, while healthcare costs have risen twice as fast as the average wage in the prior decade.

America’s healthcare system is upside down. What is more important than healthcare for Americans?

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In The Hospital, mistaken identity runs rampant at this particular hospital. When you check in for something at any hospital, your bracelet is your identifier. Every time they give you a drug or start a procedure they scan your bracelet. Not only does it identify you, it associates the cost with your account. Heaven forbid they don’t correctly charge that $20 aspirin or suppository. Each person you come in contact with verifies your name and birth date. That’s a good thing.  Hospitals also have a board in every room listing the staff who serve patients, and you don’t get hounded about payment when you checkout.  That bill finds you later.

In the film, there are several murders. The guilty party, a doctor who is a patient, sets it up so the hospital and it’s processes and neglect does all the killing. The mad house of our times, he says. Hospitals do their best to not misidentify or kill patients. It’s bad for business. People who work in hospitals do care about their patients and take pride in their work. There are exceptions, one happened to me, but at the same hospital there were other very caring people.

In America, we are on the verge of a healthcare revolution. It is coming.  Access to and affordability of healthcare be improved. Just tweaking the system is not change. The coronavirus pandemic exemplified the problems in our healthcare system. The Hospital was a black comedy that illuminated growing problems in 1971. Skip ahead 49 years. Many of the same and new problems exist, the only difference. It ain’t that funny.


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