America’s Health Care System is Sicko

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

3 August 2007
Eric Fried

Score one for bullying.

Ask Americans what concerns them most, and the soaring cost of health care are at the top of the list, right up with terrorism and immigration. While health care always makes the worry list, the issue’s profile has been raised even higher recently by Michael Moore’s latest smash hit documentary, “Sicko.”

Just as they did with Moore’s previous film “Fahrenheit 911,” conservative critics are savagely attacking the messenger and repeating talking points disputing the accuracy of his statements. Moore will have the last laugh again, because he does meticulous research and fact checking. Too bad we didn’t listen to Michael then, because he was right about the phony war in Iraq. Maybe we’ll listen this time.

You often hear apologists for our current mess say “America has the best health care system in the world.” That may be true, if you are very wealthy and can afford to pay for the finest medical technology in the world. But looking at the big picture, America pays far more per person for health care than any other nation in the world – and we still leave almost 50 million Americans with no insurance coverage at all. Using objective rankings by the World Health Organization, America ranks 37th in overall health, trailing Canada, Japan and most European countries, as well as global superpowers like Oman, Colombia and Morocco, and only two slots ahead of impoverished Cuba. However, we do kick Uzbekistan’s butt! We’re number 37! We’re number 37!

The defenders of for-profit medicine say a government-run system will lead to health care rationing, high costs and maddening bureaucracy. Helloooo! We already have all that under our current system.

You also hear a lot that Canadians hate their government-run health systems, so they come hear for surgeries. True, some do come here if they don’t want to wait for non-emergency elective procedures. As they head south, they probably pass the busloads of Americans heading north for cheaper prescription drugs. Overall, most Canadians are quite satisfied with their national health care system, and would never consider trading their system for ours.

So how is our system “the best in the world”? It can only be one thing: how much money private insurers, pharmaceutical makers and other giant corporations rake in from our ill health. That’s the real problem with our system: the more they make us pay in premiums, co-pays, exclusions and deductibles, and the less health care they provide, the higher their profits.

Under the weight of a growing, aging, and increasingly sedentary population, our system is breaking down entirely. Emergency rooms are overcrowded, indigent patients are dumped in the street, and 18,000 Americans die unnecessarily each year due to lack of health insurance. Most of us are one bad break away from losing everything. Half of all personal bankruptcies are due to medical emergencies, and of those, the majority had health insurance!

We need a complete overhaul, not minor tweaking. We need single-payer health insurance. Single-payer is not “socialized medicine” (although we have no problem with “socialized” police, firefighters or schools) but government health insurance that covers everyone. You choose your doctor, the government pays. Since overhead in Medicare and the Veterans Administration (the socialized medicine already used by tens of millions of Americans) is a fraction of what it is under private insurance, the costs come way down under single-payer even as coverage goes up. The only reason we don’t have it already is that the special interests that profit from our current system employ legions of lobbyists and toss out campaign contributions like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. That’s why even the leading Democratic Presidential contenders shy away from true universal health care proposals.

The Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform is now studying four comprehensive proposals, including a state single-payer system. Go to their website at www.colorado.gov/208commission, attend their upcoming meetings and demand universal, non-profit health insurance.

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