OPINION: Warfare over health care — that’s the American Way
Free Press Opinion Columnist
The crash of the Affordable Care Act website is the cause of considerable glee in most of the Republican Party, seeming to corroborate their cardinal principle that government can do nothing right, or at least not as efficiently as the private sector. And it has been a fiasco for Obama, with thousands of citizens receiving cancellation notices of their existing policies — an outcome he promised could not happen.
The rollout failures and botched assurances may eventually do what the Tea Party’s desperate attempt to shut down the whole federal government didn’t do — crash the whole Obamacare program, if fixes are not forthcoming soon. A virtual boycott by a majority of citizens could effectively cripple the ACA and lead to legislative repeal eventually. And then where will we be? Stuck with the industrialized world’s most expensive health care system, yet ranked 38th in the world by the World Health Organization.
A Bloomberg study rated the U.S. as No. 46 in the world for efficiency, behind Romania and Iran. The International Federation of Health Plans, a global insurance trade organization representing insurers in 25 countries, published its shocking findings for 2012, comparing the costs of various medical procedures in Canada, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Argentina, France, Chile and the U.S.
Across the board, the graphs look like the “hockey puck” graph that Al Gore used to illustrate global warming — every other country’s bar looks like a one-story hut, until you come to the U.S., where the bar appears as a skyscraper. For example, cost of a routine office visit ranges from a low of $10 in Argentina to $38 in Chile, but up to a whopping $176 in the U.S. An angiogram runs from $35 in Canada to $264 in France, up to an astronomical $2,400 in the U.S. The cost for a day in the hospital runs from $429 in Argentina to $1,472 in Australia; in the U.S. it ranges from an average of $4,287 to $12,537. There is a broader range in the U.S. because of the diversity of different providers and insurers we have, many charging as much they can get away with it. The same lesson applies to drugs — we pay far more than other countries.
We currently spend 20% of our GDP on health care, about double what most other countries spend. For a time the explanation for this huge disparity was thought to be that Americans use more health services, but studies have proven that isn’t the case. The reason is that, compared to the rest of the world, our prices are ridiculously inflated — profits in the health care industry are about 20%, equivalent to the financial sector, and alone among industrialized countries, we have a for-profit health insurance industry mediating these services and jacking up the prices even more.
Without any kind of reform, those costs are predicted to rise even further in the future, as they have risen at three times the rate of inflation from 1988 to 2006. There are opportunity costs to this extravagance, as a Princeton economist notes: “The money we spend on health care is money we don’t spend educating our children, or investing in infrastructure, scientific research and defense spending.” Frank McArdle, a consultant to the Business Roundtable, states this system “is cramping our economic growth.”
The plan that Mitt Romney instituted in Massachusetts was based on a plan originally proposed by President Nixon, and advocated by the conservative Heritage Foundation, proposing a mandate that all households obtain private insurance as a necessary measure to drive down galloping costs. This was also supported by Newt Gingrich and other Republican luminaries, as an alternative to extending Medicare, or any kind of government-regulated public option, where the overhead would be 5% (like Medicare) versus the 30% overhead in the private sector.
Now the Republicans are doing everything possible to oppose what was in essence the conservative, private-sector solution to our health care crisis. So what exactly is their solution? It appears that they really don’t want a solution — the bloodsucking profits of our health care and insurance industries are sacrosanct, no matter how much of a drain on the rest of the economy, no matter how many Americans die prematurely because they cannot afford preventative care, no matter how disgraceful that the health care system of the world’s richest nation ranks behind those of Romania and Iran.
Meanwhile, we are slated to spend $400 billion upgrading our nuclear arsenal, while continuing to account for almost half of the world’s total military spending — all of which could be dubbed “socialist” by the way, as it is funded 100% by tax dollars. This leads to a repugnant conclusion about our nation: We will devote any amount of federal effort and treasure for the purpose of killing people, but any effort to augment the healing of our people is just too cumbersome and oppressive to resolve.
Travis Kelly is a web/graphic designer, writer and cartoonist in Grand Junction. See his work or contact him at http://www.traviskelly.com.
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