There was a time when the United States prided itself on having the greatest practical achievements in the world.
America turned the Japanese destruction of much of its Navy in 1941 into the most powerful and advanced naval force on Earth. It put fourteen men on the moon within eleven years of setting that goal, invented the space shuttle, and remotely explored the far reaches of our solar system. US doctors and researchers discovered penicillin, engineered a vaccine for polio and many other diseases, and invented Viagra. So how is it possible that the US has the worst, most expensive, least effective, most economically and medically discriminatory health care system of any industrialized nation on the planet?
How can it be possible that the richest nation on Earth has the poorest health care system of any of the western industrialized nations?
Before considering any other factor, it is important to understand that there are conservatively oriented folks in this country that, from a philosophical point of view, truly believe that making health care available to every citizen is not a function of government, any more than providing free food to everyone. While one can disagree with this view, or label it as overly simplistic, at least it is possible to understand that some folks really do believe this. So be it.
But the respect of opposing views ends right there. The health care system in the US is run almost exclusively by private corporate enterprise, profit-motive based insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Their sole vested interest is not the good health and longevity of US citizens, but the profit return to their stockholders.
US health insurance companies routinely evaluate which treatments to approve and which to disapprove for a patient based primarily on costs, and not upon the health benefits for the patient or the doctor’s treatment plan. The pharmaceutical companies spend millions upon millions of dollars every year lobbying congress to ensure that the US does not enter into a “negotiation” model such as other countries have, for lowering the costs of medicines on a national scale.
An analogy to this absolutely heinous situation would be an army run by a for-profit corporation, which decides which battles in a war to engage in based upon the cost of the military materiel (not in lives since they’re cheap) needed to win the battle, buying only the cheapest weapons systems and minimum personnel armor, since lives are cheaper than bullet-proof vests. It tells the soldiers that better armor and weapons available elsewhere are “experimental”, and therefore not a covered expense. It further tells the soldiers that if they want the best equipment, they will have to buy it themselves. As an alternative, it offers big rocks to hid behind (and throw?). It exports the more advanced military materiel to other countries at a fraction of what it would cost for the hired solder to buy that same equipment at the company store.
Put more empirically, here are some statistics that should make every American hang their heads in shame:
1. In 2007 there were at least 47,000,000 Americans without health insurance. In 2008, at least another 1.2 million Americans lost their jobs and subsequently their medical coverage, By then, it was estimated that 49,000,000 Americans had no health insurance. Since the recession has caused over 3.6 million more job loses in the USA, and conservatively assuming that each job provided health benefits for a just a family of two, over seven million additional Americans are without health care. That’s almost a fifth or Americans, or almost 20% of the nation’s population with no access to medical treatment or medicine if they need it. And we’re not including children in these figures.
2. The US spends more per-capita for health care than any other industrialized nation on Earth, but the average American receives far less medical care than citizens of those other countries, and Americans live at least four years less than Europeans and Canadians.
3. Even with health insurance, 20% of Americans will die of curable cancer because their health care companies will not cover life-saving medications and therapies. In other words, their health insurance is inadequate to save their lives based upon cost.
4. Unless you qualify for a federal or state program or similar special deal, if you lose your health insurance, and later apply for new health insurance, or are applying for the first time, none of your pre-existing medical conditions will be covered. Thus, if you have or have had any of at least 37 pages of medical conditions ever in your life, you’re on your own.
5. Under the present US health care system, every medical decision made between you and your doctor is subject to review by an insurance company “medical director”, whose sole function is to save the company money. In universal health systems, there is no such administrative/corporate bottom-line review of medical decisions. Thus, the health care care you receive is motivated by one factor: curing you.
There are, of course, those who will claim that the cost of universal health care systems is prohibitive and would be unbearably expensive. But this simply isn’t true. Europeans, Canadians, and Australians seem to be able to provide for the highest quality of health care of all of their citizens with minimal effort. Even a little piss-ant third world country like Cuba provides quality universal health care. And if you are already paying for both health insurance and much of your medicine expenses through the co-pay system, your per-capita costs in a universal health care system will actually go down, not up!
Recognizing that some folks might question the issue of costs, consider that the US health care system presently passes on the costs of emergency room medical services provided to the uninsured (all 56,000,000 of them) and the under-insured (another 40,000,000), plus their administrative costs, including several hundred billion dollars yearly for their CEOs in salaries and monster bonuses, to those that pay for health insurance.
Surely, the hundreds of billions in salaries and administrative costs do absolutely nothing to provide even the most minimal medical care to even one single person. And we haven’t even addressed the costs of meds, which Americans pay for at twice the price of anyone else in the world, while the folks in the universal health care countries pay nothing or next to nothing for the same meds.
Although anti-universal health care Americans love to cite Canada as an example of a universal health care system that purportedly doesn’t work well, this writer has interviewed over a dozen Canadians in Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and not one of them had anything but accolades for their Canadian system. They did, however, wonder how the richest country in the world could tolerate such horrible abomination as the profit-based system in the USA. Most questioned why Americans didn’t revolt against such a system.
Finally, consider that obesity is known to be at epidemic proportions in the USA, partly because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise afflicting much of the population, and partly because of a lack of available/affordable preventative medical programs to help folks lose and maintain weight before big health problems occur. Consider further that there are prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe for you to help you control your appetite, thus facilitating the loss of weight and its resulting health benefits. Finally, consider that many of these medications are in the US$40 a month range, which is well within a health-insurance prescription drug co-pay plan.
Would you believe that major American health insurance companies override doctors’ decisions to assist a patient who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, with a history of heart disease in the family, to lose weight and thus decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke daily, by ruling that appetite-control prescription medications are “not medically necessary”?
Believe it. Major health insurance companies (email me for their names) in the US, do it every day. It seems they would rather have a person risk their health with increased weight than pay a minor copay in the probable range of $7 to $30 a month to avoid more expensive problems later. Oh wait. They can deny services later as well!
And this is happening while the CEO’s are making millions of dollars a year each!
No wonder they’re fighting so hard to keep their corrupt, discriminatory, profit-motivated, non-quality driven money machine in place, while millions of Americans have to choose between eating and taking their meds.
That sucks. HUGE.