America's health care albatross
A Times Editorial
Published December 19, 2005
America's health care system is notoriously the world's costliest. Not to worry, say the industry's lobbyists; it's also the world's best.
That's not necessarily so. A recent six-nation survey found significant deficiencies in how American patients with significant illnesses perceive they are treated compared to equivalently sick adults in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Germany. Although none of the six came out very well, one inescapable conclusion is that Americans aren't getting their money's worth. Far from it.
To those who cared to look, this has been obvious for years in America's inferior adult and infant mortality statistics.
"The United States often stands out with high medical errors and inefficient care and has the worst performance for access/cost barriers and financial burdens," wrote the authors of the study in the journal Health Affairs .
The United States fared worst in the percentage of patients - 34 - reporting errors in treatment, medication or laboratory procedures. This compared to 30 percent in Canada and 22 percent in Britain, which has a fully socialized national system.
The United States and Canada stood out from the others, with Canada highest, in the percentage of patients (23 percent in the United States, 36 percent north of the border) who had to wait six days or longer to see a doctor. Unlike Canada, the United States claims not to ration care.
Americans were much more likely than anyone else to skip seeing a doctor or to not fill a prescription because of cost. Here, 33 percent said they did not see a doctor when sick compared to only 7 percent in Canada and 4 percent in Britain.
"Despite these high rates of care forgone," the authors noted, "one-third of U.S. patients spent more than $1,000 out of pocket in the past year, a level rare in the other countries."
Such data adds to an existing mountain of evidence in support of some version of universal health insurance, which Theodore Roosevelt first proposed nearly a century ago. Every other industrialized nation has long since achieved some form of it, but here, the benighted self-interest of assorted medical and insurance lobbies has thrashed the public interest time after time - six times so far.
The American non-system - to call it what it really is - cost us $1.68-trillion in 2003,Americans were much more likely than anyone else to skip seeing a doctor or to not fill a prescription because of cost. Here, 33 percent said they did not see a doctor when sick compared to only 7 percent in Canada and 4 percent in Britain.
equivalent to 15.3 percent of the gross domestic product. An astonishing $119.7-billion of that was spent on administration of government and private insurance plans. Much of that cost, it bears remembering, is money wasted on deciding who is covered and who is not. This is as cruel as it is inefficient.
The lack of a proper system is a huge drag on the economy, a dead weight to the international competitiveness of American goods and services, and a threat to the solvency of even the largest corporations.
The Clinton administration's defeat by the insurance lobby supposedly took universal national health care off the nation's agenda for yet another generation. To foil that cynical prediction should be a priority and a promise on the part of any deserving candidate for office.
[Last modified December 19, 2005, 01:38:18]
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