Patch Adams is disgusted with U.S. healthcare


Dr. Patch Adams isn’t laughing about healthcare reform.

In an incendiary commentary at the Aspen Health Forum on Monday, the professional clown and famed pioneer for alternative medicine said the current debate on healthcare is missing the point. Instead of arguing about how to pay for health insurance, he said, we should be discussing how to get rid of health insurance and how to improve humanity.

“For 40 years, the business/greed model has tried to take care of healthcare,” said the doctor, wearing a curly-cue mustache, a Day-Glo flower-patterned shirt and blouse and unmatched neon socks. “They’ve done an absolutely revolting, disgusting job and they’ve made trillions of dollars from it. So, why we would want the greed model to take care of people, I don’t know.”

Adams advocated the creation of “nerd centers” across the country, where experts would develop medicines and equipment — working not for money but for the joy of helping people. Treatment and wellness care should be universal, he argued, and should be provided by caregivers who are not necessarily paid.

“Healthcare is a human right,” said Adams, founder of the Gesundheit Institute and subject of a 1998 biographical film starring Robin Williams. “It is inexcusable that we don’t take care of all our people as a gift ... . I am ashamed of my profession.”

Adams met with political leaders over the weekend at the Aspen Institute and expressed extreme disappointment in the limited scope of their reform efforts — which are focused on lowering costs and increasing access to care.

“They are not actually addressing healthcare reform at all,” Adams complained.

The powers that be have written off Adams’ service-based healthcare model as do-gooder volunteerism and community service, he said, much to his disappointment: “I’m not talking about volunteerism, I’m talking about the ecstasy of human service.”

Adams’ criticisms were echoed by Dr. Susan Parenti, his professional collaborator and founder of the School for Designing a Society. She said a successful healthcare system would cut corporations out of the equation.

“We may look at it as a broken system,” she said, “but it is still writing someone a lot of checks. ... I don’t think there’s a place for business in the care of our citizens.”

In the short term, Adams called for the U.S. to install a so-called “single payer” public health system — not because it’s a good system in his opinion but because it would annoy Americans so much that they would force the government to make some meaningful changes in healthcare policy.

“‘Single payer,’ by the way, is a wonderful way to pay for all people in the vulgar greedy system,” he said. “But it has nothing to do, really, with healthcare reform. We need to get single payer and be irritated by the cost of single payer to reform the way care is delivered.”