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Health care in America is un-American

People in countries with universal health care live longer and healthier lives than people in the United States. Their infant mortality rates are lower. No one goes bankrupt or loses their home because of unpaid medical bills. No one has to make a choice between food and medicine or between rent and health insurance payments. No one has to put off going to the doctor because it’s too expensive. Changing jobs doesn’t mean losing or changing medical coverage. Losing a job doesn’t mean losing medical coverage.

Universal health care even mitigates the costs of malpractice insurance: a big chunk of many malpractice awards goes toward future medical costs, and with universal health care, those costs are already covered.

So what’s the down side? Opponents of universal health care will tell you about waiting lists and inferior medical services. They’ll bring up the spectre of “socialised medicine,” which is meant to make you think of some faceless Soviet-style bureaucrat ordering you to see some poorly-trained doctor in some bleak clinic.

They’ll tell you that the “free market,” the system under which profits depend in part on withholding medical services from participants or refusing participation to people with the greatest needs, is the best way to ensure that everyone gets the care they need.

They’ll tell you this with a straight face, in the face of 50 million uninsured Americans, in the face of life expectancies three years shorter than those in other developed countries (and Cuba), in the face of infant mortality rates anywhere from 20-50% higher than those in other developed countries.

They’ll tell you that the U.S. has the finest health care system in the world; something which, if true, would mean that Americans are simply physically inferior to those longer-lived and healthier Canadians and French and Cubans.

It’s almost true: the U.S. has the finest health care infrastructure in the world, with the best equipment and a plentiful supply of well-trained doctors and other medical personnel. It’s just that many Americans can’t afford to get in the door.

Polls consistently show that a large majority of Americans support the idea of taxpayer-supported universal health care even if it means higher taxes — anywhere from 60%-80%, depending upon how the question is phrased. So why don’t we have it?

We don’t have it because a very small minority of people pay our elected officials a very large amount of money to kill any attempt at implementing a sane national health care policy.

I say “a very large amount of money,” but in reality it’s just a fraction of what the health care industry receives in return for their investment: they spend a few hundred million on campaign contributions and lobbying, and they get tens of billions in return, from tax breaks, subsidies and the opportunity to continue racking up very tidy profits at the expense of consumers, both the ones they serve and the ones they don’t.

Michael Moore’s Sicko, a film about health care, premiers tomorrow. Moore intends the film as a call to action. The representatives and beneficiaries of the system he attacks will be pushing back, hard. But if some significant number of that majority of Americans who support national health care push back in their own turn, Moore will have started a fight that we can win.

During the next few days we’ll be taking a look at some of the realities of national health care in other countries, and how and why the U.S. can both emulate and surpass those systems, and we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the issues raised in Moore’s film, which go beyond the purely medical impact of national health care.

Meanwhile, go catch Sicko when it opens near you.

(Click here for related stories.)

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12 comments to Health care in America is un-American

  • Seeing Sicko tomorrow! But good summary of the problem.

  • rickygee

    I have yet to hear a fact-based critique of SICKO. (not surprising since it is opening today) But I have heard plenty of snide comments about his weight, the money he makes, and the way he distorts things for dramatic effect.

  • Excellent post! It will be interesting if Sicko can break into the top-ten box office results this weekend. It would have to gross over $4 million to do that. It’s isn’t probable, but it would be exciting.

    It jas grossed over $140K in NYC on a single screen in the past week.

  • Batocchio, if you get a chance, stop back by and let me know what you think of the film.

    Rickygee, yeah, I’m sure we’ll get a ton of that even after everyone has seen it. Moore being Moore and movies being movies, he does oversimplify some things — it’s a complex subject in the details, if not the concept, and two hours isn’t enough time for an in-depth look — and of course there’s the grand gesture of Cuba, but for the most part it’s a pretty straightforward narrative.

  • Dahlgren, thanks. I hope it does crack the top ten — more buzz.

  • Sailor Art Thomas Jr.

    What a surprise, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Post all gave negative reviews to Sicko.

  • Sailor, I read the Washington Post review, and it struck me as a submerged plea by Stephen Hunter for Moore to tell him what to do. He pretty much missed the point, I think.

  • Fred

    Here’s the letter I sent to Kurt Loder at MTV, whose review mirrored the comments of a piece in the Monterey County Herald, from a Deroy Murdock of the Hoover Institute:

    “I have not seen Sicko, so my comments concern some of the opinion statements in [Murdock's and Loder's] peculiar review.

    The nationalized health care systems on England, Canada, the EU, etc. are not perfect – not by any stretch. However, the “long-waits” and “denied-coverage” canards commonly trotted out as the main elements to the anti-national health care straw man argument are debatably irrelevant.

    There are at least two major categorical benefits that can not be denied about a majority of nationalized health care programs found in the industrialized West compared to fee-for-service systems like the US: lower infant mortality and higher levels of overall societal health using any number of epidemiological benchmarks.

    From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, such benefits clearly outweigh the “delays” risks.

    Further, it is common to assert that the US has the best health care because we have the highest level of medical expertise and technology in the World. However, this fact alone does not provide any support for a system in which nearly a sixth of the population has little or no access to these “advantages.” And as the managed health industries and third-party payors increasingly influence coverage practices by decreasing them in the face of uncontrolled increases in costs, the situation in this country will continue to decline as more people live longer and face catastrophic health crises.

    Michael Moore may be guilty of the critical foul of disparaging a system, while not suggesting clear solutions to fill the vacuum – that is his issue to address. But he is not a policy maker nor an expert on health care plans on a national scale. However, a crisis does exist, and it’s incumbent upon everyone to get the message to those who are charged with fixing such problems. He has done this in the past with his oeuvre, albeit with a dull knife.

    Over and against the profit motives of the industrial players and market forces currently intertwined with the US health care delivery system, I have no problem the government devising and running a nationalized program, as they are supposed to represent all citizens and their interests – not a handful of stockholders.

    I am hopeful a fully comprehensive health care delivery system, with opt-out provisions, will emerge in the near future. I’m not getting any younger.”

    Time for the Right to wise-up.

  • [...] Health care in America is un-American [...]

  • Gary

    Great post. Uncharacteristically, you left an important factor unmentioned that I think may, more than Sicko or perhaps anything else, create a window of opportunity to end the insanity: i.e., the belated realization by some large businesses/industries of how much our current, private, employment-based system is a drag on their international competitiveness (and relatedly, a major driver of outsourcing and declines of U.S. manufacturing and now service industries, too). A large and powerful business bloc seeing its interests at odds with those of the insurance/pharmaceutical bloc’s interest in preserving the status quo might be just the nudge necessary to get us past the tipping point.

    P.S. great to see the site back up and running.

  • Hey, Gary. Thanks. I’m getting to the competetiveness aspect …