Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fix Our Broken Health Care System Now Because We aren't Very Good and We're Broke

The Des Moines Register published an editorial on Sunday that shows how much must be done to fix our broken health care system...

If someone tells you the United States provides the best health care in the world, they're not telling the truth.

The truth is this country came in 37th - far from the best - in the most recent World Health Organization ranking.

The organization took a close look at the health systems of nearly 200 countries. It evaluated measures such as spending, longevity, affordability and access to care.

France ranked No. 1. The 35 others that scored better than the United States include Italy, Costa Rica, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

The Register then looked at so-called rationing in other countires and concludes that the United States must say that all people have a right to basic health care...

'Rationing' may be same as what's happening here

All of these countries - in fact every country on the planet - spends less than the United States on health care, both per person and as a percentage of gross domestic product. This year, the United States is on track to fork over $2.5 trillion for health care. If that doesn't sting, consider that in countries that spend less, people enjoy longer lives and better outcomes for some medical conditions. Fewer of their babies die. More of them are immunized.

Critics of other countries' health systems are quick to point to so-called rationing of care and waiting lists for surgeries. Yes, there are waits for elective surgeries, such as knee replacements and cataract removal. Some health systems won't pay for certain drugs and treatments. That's how they try to control costs.

But it's not clear such limitations are any worse than what exists in the United States. Insurance companies and public-insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid don't cover every drug and service people want. Some Americans wait weeks to get a hip replaced and can't find psychiatrists for their children. Some veterans can't get mental-health services. Some seniors hit the doughnut hole in Medicare drug coverage and have to pay the full cost of their drugs before coverage kicks in again.

These are attempts to control costs by limiting access to health care. And the epitome of limiting access is leaving millions of Americans uninsured.

Make this idea our own: Health care is a right

So what do other countries do that we don't do, and what should we consider borrowing?

The most important approach the United States should adopt is a fundamental premise: All people have a right to basic care. Other developed nations have embraced the principle that health services are a necessity, just like food and housing.

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