Americans deserve an honest discourse on how to fix their health-care system. That’s not what they’ve gotten on the notion of a public insurance plan.
Surely, something is wrong when, at $7,421 per person, the United States outspends every other country per capita on health care, yet shows a life expectancy three to four years shorter and an infant mortality rate far higher than all other industrialized nations; when 47 million people in the world’s richest nation have no health insurance at all, millions more have totally inadequate coverage, people go bankrupt because of the cost of health care, and people die because they can’t get health care; and when tens of thousands of Americans would rather go abroad for treatment because it’s too expensive at home. Industry estimates of the number of Americans who leave the country each year for medical treatment range from 150,000 to just over one million.
All this in a system dominated by private insurers.
The outright lies and fear-mongering informing the debate over a public option make a mockery public discourse in America. Here’s the view of a European colleague:
“To any European, the whole debate in the U.S. on health care seems totally incomprehensible. For what it’s worth, and for any waverers, here are some observations from the other side of the Atlantic: In the U.K., I have never met anyone — rich or poor, young or old, left wing or right wing, male or female, Black or white — who would want to get rid of the National Health Service. It is there for everyone and everyone uses it. No one ever has to worry that, if they lost their job or did not have medical insurance, they may not be able to afford medical fees. We may complain about some aspects, but no one would ever want the right to universal health care abandoned. I can make an appointment to see my doctor whenever I want. There are no quotas and no money ever changes hand. For a nonurgent appointment, I may have to wait a few days, but in an emergency, of course, one would be seen immediately. Yes, there may be a wait for certain surgical procedures, but that is getting better. Why anyone should oppose some form of national health service is, to my mind, inexplicable.
I have private health insurance through my job, but I have never used it. The main benefit is that, in the event of being hospitalized, I could have my own room and privacy (in an NHS or private hospital) and probably better food. NHS hospital meals are notorious. But the doctors are likely to be the same, whether one is being treated as a private or NHS patient. The point is, the system is straightforward, with a minimum of paperwork, and uncontroversial. The fact that Obama is losing support over this is just extraordinary.”
To which another colleague, a U.S. citizen, responds: “Having lived many years in Britain, and now in Switzerland, I can also vouch one hundred percent for what [our colleague] has said. No one in this part of the world, or any other part of the world for that matter, can understand the debate Stateside. I would add, too, that there is something very wrong with a system in which the largest insurance company in the country is bailed out to the tune of tens of billions — and bonuses to incompetent executives continue to flow — while fifty million Americans either cannot provide health care for themselves or their families, or face bankruptcy when their insurance provider can’t or won’t cover expenses. Incredible.”