Opponents of health care reform claim that America has “the best health care in the world,” arguing that changing the present system threatens our nation’s primacy. This argument is so unfounded, so completely contradicted by reality as to raise my frustration and blood pressure to levels I hadn’t experienced since Alberto Gonzales last testified before Congress. I’ve finally come to some understanding about the basis for the “best health care” claim, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I have to credit Rush Limbaugh for helping me figure it out.
Rush,or course, experienced American health care first hand after going to a hospital emergency room with chest pains during a recent visit to Hawaii. During his hospital stay, which included an angioplasty that found nothing seriously wrong, Rush said he experienced the “best health care the world has to offer.” But he made a point of letting his audience know that he paid for it himself, and that he doesn’t have health insurance. According to Rush, his bill was “less than the cheapest car that you will go out and buy today,” and that using health insurance would have resulted in Rush paying an additional 30%. Because he paid cash, “there was not one bureaucrat determining whether or not [he] was gonna get treatment. There wasn’t a death panel here.”
(It’s not clear what Rush, who owns a number of cars, thinks is “cheap”. One hopes he wasn’t thinking about his Maybach 57S, which retails at about $450,000.)
You see Rush’s point. Medical care provided in an American hospital: “the best”; health insurance: expensive, bureaucratic, not so good. And his 30% figure is a good estimate of the additional amount he might have paid an insurance company for the same medical services, though the real number for Rush (who would likely pay the individual rate, as opposed to those in a group plan), might have been as high as 40%. In other words, had he used health insurance, only 60 to 70 cents of every dollar Rush paid would be used to actually pay for health services.
Rush, of course, isn’t concerned with fixing health insurance. In fact, he’s against doing anything with a system that works so well for him. But his basis for deciding we have the best health care system in the world is clear. There are good doctors and good hospitals in this country, available to those who have access. This is what all those politicians, Senators John Barrasso, Richard Shelby, Tom Coburn, Congressman John Boehner and the rest, mean when they talk about the quality of health care in America. It’s fine, great, the best, as long as you can pay for it. But don’t mess with it, because you might screw that up. It’s the reason Tom Coburn thinks it’s relevant that Canadian Danny Williams, the Newfoundland and Labrador premier, came to the United States for his heart surgery. It’s more proof that America provides some of the very best health care that (lots of) money can buy.
In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that this point of view is held by so many opponents of changes to the present system. I was blinded though, by my assumptions about Senators and Members of the House. They’re public servants, after all, and I assumed they’d judge the quality of American health care the way most other people and organizations — the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Center for Disease Control, me, and probably you — would judge it; by comparing the health of those who live in America to the health of people living in other countries. By that standard, our health care system is poor, at least when compared to other developed nations.
The proof is unassailable. According the CIA World Fact Book, America falls behind 47 countries in life expectancy of it’s citizens, and behind 44 countries, including essentially all countries in the developed world, in infant mortality. According to a 2008 report funded by the Commonwealth Group, America was 14th of 14 nations surveyed in the percentage of deaths that could have been avoided with proper health care for people under the age of 75. A 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that our primary care also falls short; the US has the highest number of hospital admissions for asthma and diabetes. Physicians in other countries manage chronic diseases so that they don’t become critical medical problems requiring expensive hospitalization. The OECD also point out in the same report that only the United States, Turkey and Mexico fail to provide universal or near universal care. Other OECD nations achieve better health care results for all citizens, allocating an average of about 9% of their GDP to health; in contrast, the United States gets substandard results for about 16% of GDP.
But there’s good news. Now that it’s clear what reform opponents mean when they talk about the “best” health care, we just need to explain what the rest of us think is important, and what we want them to do. So contact your representatives in Congress and explain that:
We agree that American medicine is fine. But we want everyone in the country to have access to it. Judge the quality of America health care by the health of Americans.
As to our children: some of you think they should have legal protection from the moment of conception on. Surely, we can all agree that our children’s health should be protected after they’re born, and that fewer should die in the first year of life.
Oh, and one more thing — cost. The rest of the world gets quality universal health care and pays a lot less than we do. Can’t America do as well?
Opponents to changing the economics of health care in American proudly proclaim their belief that America’s medical services are the best in the world. Tell Congress that we want them to do the work necessary to ensure that American citizens get the benefit of all that quality car, so we all have the chance to be as healthy as the citizens of the rest of the developed world. To fail to do this, to not even try seems, well, unpatriotic.