This page started as another example on the "What's the Big Idea?" page, but it's so central to the business-owned and birthed system of healthcare financing in the U.S. that it needs a page, or maybe more, of its own. Continuing the thought that socially important goods and services need societal oversight and control:
The social content of medical care is 100%. Who provides medical care? Well, you might say that doctors (and nurse practitioners and nurses and midwives, et al.) provide medical care. Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, and other organizations provide settings for medical care to be administered to patients. But there is a catch in the U.S.: the care needs to be paid for. And when someone approaches a facility to receive medical care, whether for vague pain or for a knife wound, the first question they will be asked is "may I see your insurance card?" In other words, there must be someone who is willing to pay for your medical care. And if there is no one willing to pay for your care (and you are unable to pay for your own care), you may very well be turned away or redirected to a place that "does charity work".
How is it that 46 million of our citizens have no way to pay for medical care except the resources they can muster up themselves - retirement savings, second mortgages, etc. - some bankrupting themselves paying for their own health care or that of a loved one? If medical care has 100% social content, why do we deny access to so many of our citizens? Shouldn't we have a national standard for health care that says, in essence, if someone is sick, our system of care will help them to get better, to avoid getting worse, or to deal with their debilitating illness in comfort and die with dignity?
Health care - specifically, the way it is financed in the U.S. - is a national disgrace. We are the only nation in the industrialized world without a system of national health care financing, and by all measures of public health, we rank near the bottom with worse infant mortality and life expectancy, and most other measures. And we spend more - far more - per capita for health care than any other country.
A recent press release by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention trumpeted that life expectancy in the U.S. had reached an all-time high of 77.9 years. Great, isn't it? What they didn't bother to mention is that some 40 other countries have longer life expectancies. (See the CIA Factbook.) Yet the U.S. spends way, way more per capita per year than any other country. (See UCSC study.) Interestingly, (from one of the charts on the UCSC page), while the U.S. spends about $4,400/citizen/year for healthcare, the country ranking immediately below the U.S. is Cuba. And Cuba spends about $250/citizen/year. Pretty remarkable return on investments, on both extremes, isn't it?
If you look at measures of public health (Google can help) you will see that the U.S. consistently ranks around 30th worldwide in taking care of its citizens (while we spend nearly twice as much per person doing it). What would we do if we had a doctor that routinely killed enough of her patients that her mortality figures were noticeably higher than her colleagues? I expect she'd come to the attention of someone - maybe the medical society, maybe the sheriff - and corrective action would be taken. Well, our health care financing system has a higher mortality rate than ALL our neighbors in the world, and we tolerate it.
Society has an interest in seeing that its members have access to and receive care for sickness. The U.S. has ignored that interest because the profits made by insurance companies and the for-profit health care provider community have funded largely successful campaigns to beat down every attempt to govern health care financing.
The bugbear is SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! Auuuugggghhh! Get those commies out of my life! Well, when did you last hear people complaining about Socialized Police Departments? Or the Socialized Marine Corps? Or Socialized National parks? Or (my favorite) Socialized Medical Care for People Over 64? All that stuff is put in place by government at some level (or at many levels) because it was needed. And for the most part, it works pretty well, and is reasonably priced. Think about that.
It's time to fix healthcare financing. It's time to cut through the industry's b.s. and just get it done. Anyone who cares about healthcare (and anyone who does not) should make a point of seeing Michael Moore's SiCKO. The movie is laconic, but in every material aspect, factual. It's humorous, sometimes grotesquely so, so the audience certainly will not be bored. The movie's web site has many, many anecdotes, and offers visitors the chance to add their own. Check it out! (Michelle: that means YOU!)