In the comment section of a recent post about Glenn Beck going off his nut on the air about health care reform my aptly screen-named brother-in-law one L bill made the observation that he wasn't sure how to handle this issue and I have to say that I pretty much agree with him on that tact. Although I've endorsed universal coverage for all Americans and stated my belief that basic health care is an issue of human rights rather than one of pure private industry I readily admit that I'm no expert on the subject (just as I've done on the issue of economics in the past) and that I'm also not sure how we should handle this complicated but obviously important topic (just as I'm not sure how we should handle our current economic woes). I wonder if the facts that I don't regularly visit the doctor and that I don't really have a lot of money contribute much to my ignorance in these respective areas but I suspect that it's more likely that I just find them both rather boring topics of conversation.
Most people probably know by now that the United States is the only industrialized western nation that does not provide universal health care for its citizens but what I find more persuading are the numbers when you compare us to these other nations:
Still, if you insist that the United States simply must be No.1, it is true that ours is by far the most expensive health care system on the globe. Go, USA! In 2004, spending averaged $6,280 for each man, woman, and child in America — more than double the average ($2,307 per capita) spent in all other industrial countries.Now I hear people on the right like Beck constantly repeating the mantra that "we have the best health care system in the world!" yet I can't help wondering why the WHO has us ranked 37th overall but I think Beck hit on the answer in his hysterical rant when he mentioned that several world leaders from other countries come to the U.S. to get health care: We have the best health care system in the world if you can afford it. I'm sure that John Travolta had one of the best doctors taking care of his autistic son before he died; I'm sure that Michael Jackson had one of the best doctors prescribing him his various medications; I'm sure that Barack Obama as president of the United States has one of the best doctors giving him his annual physical. And the thing these people all have in common with those aforementioned world leaders coming here for treatment is that they're all a whole lot richer and better off than the vast majority of the American populace, and especially those 45 million Americans (again, living in the richest and most powerful country in the world) who lack even basic health care coverage.
Over 16 percent of our economy ($1.9 trillion last year) goes into our corporatized system — 50 percent more than Switzerland’s universal system, which ranks second in spending per person. Not only does the United States drastically outspend everyone else, but it does so while leaving tens of millions of Americans outside the system. In contrast, Canada puts only 10 percent of its economy into health care, Australia 9 percent, and England 7 percent, and these countries manage to provide care for every one of their people.
While we Americans pay much more, we get far less. The World Health Organization’s latest survey ranks the quality of U.S. health care at — cue the trumpets — 37th in the world. Ta-da! Not only is our system’s performance beneath Canada, Japan and all of Europe, but it’s also beneath such powerhouses as Malta, Colombia, Morocco, Chile and Dominica. We’re only one notch above Slovenia, for godssake!
Now of course I realize that the other nations that do have universal health care have their fair share of problems and that obviously no system is perfect but again I just can't look at the numbers above and not suspect that our own system needs to undergo some fundamental changes. And just as I'm aware that universal care is not quite the rosy scenario that Michael Moore portrays it in his latest documentary Sicko I also know that it wouldn't turn this country into a hellish dystopia where injured people wait years for treatment and the old and infirmed are euthanized because the state determined that they should be sacrificed for the common good as many conservatives would now have you believe. The truth obviously lies somewhere in between and a little less hysterical hyperbole from both sides would do much to advance the debate.
As near as I can tell (again, I'm obviously no expert) the problems here seem to lie with a powerful insurance industry that has the money and the means to successfully lobby congress to derail any substantive reforms that could possibly threaten their bottom line. When I hear right-wingers using the standard talking point about how under universal coverage there will now be a government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor I always think, "What, like the insurance industry does now, only with much less incentive to deny coverage for expensive and supposedly pre-existing conditions?" And the ugly little secret that these same right-wingers won't talk about is that we already have a government run health care system in this country: It's called Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran's Administration. Millions of Americans benefit from the coverage these government-run entities provide every day whilst not languishing in constant pain nor being shunted off to Carrousel.
But to bring the narrative back to the beginning, I have to confess that I have neither the expertise nor even the willingness to definitively decide what we should do as a nation in the face of this obviously looming crises. In the past I've asked readers of this blog living in other countries with universal health care to relate their own experiences within their respective systems and only one (quietmagpie, out of Australia) has been kind enough to oblige and I strongly urge you to read his heart-rending narrative on the subject. I know that it might not be indicative of every person's experiences under a government run system but it certainly makes a strong case for one substantially different from our own here in the States. As I've said, I don't have all the answers but I think that honestly asking these pertinent questions is a good place to start the discussion.