Zarephath Health Center

Letter to the Editor

» Buying Back Muhlenberg?

Perhaps it is time to think differently about how we do health care in this country. The insurance system in NJ is broken--over-regulated by government and far too expensive. Government healthcare is underfunded and thus inadequate. We need an alternative. One hospital, situated only a few miles from the Zarephath Health Center, in nearby Plainfield, NJ, is slated to close due to cost overruns.

The following Letter to the Editor lays out the problem and proposes a radical solution. Please contact us if you would like to join in on the discussion.

Dear Editor,

Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center is closing it doors after 130 years. This represents a colossal failure of government as mandates coupled with inadequate funding for Medicare, Medicaid and “charity care,” have left this hospital with an apparently unsolvable dilemma. 

How did we get here? Muhlenberg’s website explains that the hospital emerged from the efforts of seven volunteers who were deeply touched by a local train accident in 1876. After a physician had to perform surgery by candlelight at a nearby freight house, these individuals set out to build a community hospital. They raised funds from their neighbors, friends and philanthropists who cared about the well-being of area families. The government had nothing to do with it, except to make things as easy as possible for these good people to succeed.

Unfortunately, over the past 40 years, politicians have managed to mess things up dramatically. Rather than remaining a local effort with many hands working together to create a better community, Presidents, Governors, Judges and Legislators have not been able to resist the urge to exert top-down control. Over-regulation, government mandates, and inadequate payments from government programs have made this and every other hospital struggle to keep afloat.

When Medicaid and Medicare were enacted in 1965 only few could have imagined the unintended consequences that would creep in to eventually destroy our hospitals. The final straw in NJ was the enactment of the Individual Health Coverage Program of 1992. This led to the tremendous increase in the cost of health insurance and the unacceptably large numbers of uninsured. When Medicaid and Medicare pay less than 100% of the cost of care, inadequate state funds pay for “charity care,” hospitals have attempted to charge the uninsured many multiples of the cost they incur. Patients balk, no one pays enough, and the hospitals go under.

Imagine what would happen if a grocery store were mandated to provide food for every hungry person, regardless of ability to pay. People would show up, plate and fork in hand, and demand the highest quality, state-of-the-art gourmet food, never considering the bill. 

Politicians would win elections by promising food for all, telling the hospitals they would be paid for “uncompensated charity food.” But taxes can only be raised so much and there would never be quite enough to cover the ever increasing demand. The store would valiantly attempt to go on, cutting corners, always aware that lawsuits would be the ultimate result when it no longer could keep up.

Any sane store owner would simply shrug and close the doors rather than listen to the angry demands of hungry patrons waiting longer and longer for food, complaints of overworked employees and the constant government harassment.

Getting back to Muhlenberg, maybe it is time to think outside the box. Perhaps we could borrow from the successful model of vacation time-shares and we in the community could buy the hospital back. Timeshares calculate the value of a vacation unit, divide it by 50 weeks, and sell 1/50th to each family. What would happen if we calculated the value of one week per year in one hospital bed, and families then purchased one share of a hospital stay?

400 beds times 50 weeks would come to 20,000 timeshares. If a timeshare were valued at $10,000, we could raise $200 million to keep the hospital afloat. And purchasing a timeshare would enable owners to access one week of care in the hospital each year. If they were fortunate enough to be healthy in a given year, not needing hospital services, they could donate it to a neighbor in need.

It’s time for the community to rise up and do the right thing. Like those seven generous individuals in 1876, let us take matters into our own hands and buy back Muhlenberg Hospital. All we would ask is for government to get out of the way. We can be contacted at the Zarephath Health Center. Let’s brainstorm and think this through.

Alieta Eck