OPINION: There’s a saying that I’m fond of that critiques the tendency to treat symptoms rather than causes.

Its origin is, obviously, from a health and wellness context but it has broadened to cover a number of different situations. Any time someone obsesses over developing a process to make up for a fundamentally broken aspect of a business I’m involved with sees me pull out the old “symptom or cause” line.

I came across a situation the other day in which a comment about treating symptoms, not causes, is an entirely appropriate response to the situation. Ironically, it is a situation that involves the health system, the origin of the saying itself. Sometimes life has a poetic kind of circularity that appeals to me.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, an observation I made as I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed.

As an aside, LinkedIn seems to have partially moved from being a professional network and a place to share information of a vocational bent, to somewhere for people to share questionable (in terms of their authenticity) motivational missives designed to engender a treacle-like feel-good factor in the readership. But I digress.

The post that caught my attention that day was one that talked about an old man in the US who was at a chemist picking up his medications. The bill for a three-month supply of his crucial medicines ran into hundreds of dollars and the man was stressed out at the cost and his inability to pay it.

The chemist offered to supply the gentleman with only one month of drugs if that would meet his budget. Before he had a chance to respond, another shopper walked up and paid for the entire three-month supply. Cue hundreds of people commenting about humanity, generosity and “paying it forward”.

All of which is fair if the story is indeed true (and the cynic in me is dubious) then the actions of the second shopper were indeed magnanimous, and she should be praised. If more of us thought about giving back, of helping those less fortunate than us, and of a general theme of paying it forward, the world would certainly be a better place.

But, circling back to that saying of mine, what no one seemed to comment about was the fact that the entire situation spoke to gross inequity in the US health system. The cause of that old man’s angst was the fact that his medications, which were a critical part of keeping himself alive and well, cost an exorbitant amount.

I’ve had a little bit of exposure to our health system in New Zealand. My father was a GP and I recall him being “on-call” on weekends and seeing patients after hours at home.

I spent a few years as a St John paramedic and in that role interacted with both primary and tertiary healthcare. For the past few years, I have been a board member of Pegasus Health, one of New Zealand’s largest Primary Health Organisations. Finally, as a patient or a family member of a patient, I’ve interacted with our health system during times of illness or injury.

We’ve all got many stories of inefficiency and waste in our health system. We’ve all read stories of seeming wonder drugs that weren’t funded by Pharmac, our drug buying agency. We’ve all felt sympathy for nursing and orderly staff who seem to be constantly run off their feet.

Indeed, the current Health and Disability Sector Review, which is instigating the largest changes to the health system in a generation, indicates just how much work there is to do.

But for all of that, we are still a world away from the US system where those who don’t have health insurance have little or no hope of treatment. Where a simple accident, X-ray or blood test costs huge amounts and where vested interests – drug companies, private health insurers and clinicians with less than stellar ethics – rort the system for their own benefit.

A public health system, like a robust social welfare system and an equitable education system, is (or should be) a fundamental right of every member of society.

It’s a simple concept but one which in the US has those from the right howling about “crazy creeping socialism”. Since when has thought about the rights and needs of others been a bad thing? If that’s what constitutes socialism, then so be it.

We should be immensely proud and hugely protective of our public health system and should use every opportunity to advocate to other countries that they too embrace the benefits of a system such as ours.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He’s firmly focused on not needing to utilise the health system for as long as possible.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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