Ken’s Take on the World

Healthcare in America
March 16, 2009, 10:10 am
Filed under: Health and Medicine, Politics

45 to 47 million Americans are currently without health insurance.  This is not to say that anyone is, technically, without healthcare.  For the individuals and families who comprise the number, it means that all healthcare costs will be billed directly to them.  For a simple Doctor’s office visit, they may be able to pay the total cost out of their pocket.  For a visit to the Emergency Room, they may ultimately face financial ruin and bankruptcy.  Of course, most physicians offices do not accept patients who do not have private insurance.

It has been said that the true measure of a society lies in how it takes care of those most in need.  In the United States, far too often, we have fallen short.  America has always been the leader among nations and is still the country of choice for many who strive to get here through both legal and illegal means.  Citizens from other nations have not come here because the healthcare system is so great, but for the opportunity that America has always provided to the people who live here.  While the greatness of our nation has shown in manufacturing, technology, diplomacy, efficiency, and military might, we have not demonstrated as much success in the areas of poverty, education or healthcare.  Why is this the case?

Hospitals and Physicians offices throughout the country are blessed with the latest technology available to diagnose, treat and heal the sick and injured.  Yet, our lifespan ranks below almost every other industrialized nation and a number of developing nations.  It is not a lack of money or a lack of spending money that produces these statistics.  America spends trillions of dollars on healthcare.  Yes, trillions, with a T!

According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), 2.2 trillion dollars was spent on healthcare in 2007.  A 6.1% increase over 2006.  Averaging out to $7,421 per person in the United States!  Healthcare spending in the US makes up over 16% of our gross domestic product (GDP).

All this spending must make America the greatest place for healthcare in the world, right?  Not quite.  In fact, not even close.  The only measures in which the United States ranks at the top of the list?  Latest technology, healthcare spending per person, and healthcare spending as a part of GDP.

Life expectancy at birth?  We rank 24th

Infant mortality?  We rank 19th

Overall level of health?  We rank 72nd

Healthcare as % of GDP?  We rank 1st

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) when they did a global survey of overall healthcare delivery in 2000 ranked the United States 37th right behind the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica and just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba!  That is out of 193 United Nations member nations.  The top 25 included all of our European allies and Japan.  The top 30 included Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.  At least we made it in the top 50 along with Poland, Bahrain, Qatar and Croatia.

What is the matter here?  Having worked in healthcare for all of my adult life, I know this is a problem that can be addressed and resolved for the benefit of our nation.  The American people must first stand up and demand a change in the business-as-usual method of healthcare delivery.

First, however, people need to ask a fundamental question.  Is healthcare a “right” or is it a “privilege?”  My personal belief is that it is a basic, fundamental right, as is education, national defense, public safety and infrastructure serve as such.  Quality health of the individual is critical to the pursuit of success in life and vital to the continued success of the society.  As the basic knowledge and skills that are supposed to be imparted by the K-12 public educational system and as the police and fire-fighters that stand ready to assist us in our need demonstrate, healthcare must be available and provided for all people in this country.  Each of these things, and to some extent already, healthcare too, is funded by tax revenue.  Everyone laments having to pay taxes, however, the critical support systems of a society cannot stand without the financial support of all who may possibly require these services at some point.

If, as I believe, healthcare is a basic right, the question becomes, “Who should pay for it and how?”  This is where each of us must participate to determine how to create a viable system that is available for all.

Think about that!!


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