As I rediscovered last week, many opponents of universal health care in the U.S. like to say, and applaud anyone else who says, that the United States has the greatest health care system in the world. There is basically no reasonable way to back this statement up with a statistic that measures health outcomes. Americans have shorter life expectancies, infant mortality rates are higher here, and perhaps most relevantly, those who measure the rate of deaths that could have been prevented by medical care show the U.S. system to be below many of the wealthy industrialized nations of the world.
And, as everyone must know by now, ours is the worst system in the world as measured by cost efficiency.
It probably is true, that if you have unlimited resources and an illness requiring the most advanced technology, the U.S. may provide the best care, which is why some of the wealthiest people in the world come here for treatment. But this seems a bizarre and absurd way to measure the overall value of the U.S. system to average Americans, especially those without insurance and those with pre-existing conditions.
This jingoistic, almost faith-based belief that our system is the best also interferes with the ability to look around the world and see whether we could benefit from any other country’s experience.
T.R. Reid, a distinguished and experienced foreign correspondent, has been studying the health care systems that outperform ours for some years. His new book, “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care,” summarizes what he has found. And he talked about it in an interview Friday night on the Newhour with Jim Lehrer.
I found it an extremely understandable and reasonable presentation. (One point that he makes, which you don’t hear all that often, is that most of the countries that provide universal health coverage, do it through private insurance companies and those systems cannnot reasonably be called “single-payer” or “socialized medicine.”)
Anyway, my main purpose in this short post is to provide this link to that excellent nine-minute interview.
At the end, Reid says that he figured out why all those countries decided that everyone should have access to health care and he figured out how they provide it, but the biggest mystery is why the United States, alone among the countries that could afford it, has decided not to do so.