On Friday, Rob Douglas wrote, "There is nothing wrong with health care in the United States today." We also hear this when newscasters interview protesters at recent town hall meetings: "Our health care is the best in the world!"
By whose standards, I ask? Let me share some statistics:
- The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 41st in the world in infant mortality, worse than the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Puerto Rico and even Bosnia/Herzegovina, among others.
- In life expectancy, they rank us 45th in the world.
- For diseases such as bacterial infections, treatable cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and complications from common surgical procedures, in 2002 (the last year available) we had 109.7 deaths per 100,000. This was 50 percent higher than the rates in France, Japan, Spain, Italy, Canada and Australia.
- Lastly, the Commonwealth Fund ranks the U.S. last in health care outcomes when compared to Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom - even though we spend twice as much on health care as these countries.
Those who believe that we have the best health care in the world must live in their own little bubble, convinced that they will always be able to pay for insurance premiums that escalate every year. They must believe that they will never lose their jobs - unlike the 250,000 who lost their jobs last month - and therefore probably lose their insurance. They must not be concerned that this "world's best health care" is not affordable to a huge number of our citizens.
But many are likely to discover that, no matter how wealthy they are, their insurance will suddenly become unavailable to them because of a pre-existing condition or a disabling illness. The Harvard Study, funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, found that in the U.S., "a quarter of insurance firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; another quarter cancel coverage within a year." These cancellations frequently lead to bankruptcies and loss of homes. Health care reform, if done right, could put a stop to such rate hikes and cancellations. Otherwise, watch out Rob, your policy could be next.
Those who worry about the expense of health care reform neglect to recognize that the health care expense we have now is unsustainable: It will double over the next decade. President Obama has made it clear that health care reform must not increase the deficit over the next decade and must reduce costs over time. By cutting wasteful and fraudulent spending, by streamlining medical records and by emphasizing preventive care, we can reduce much of the current medical costs. It bears mentioning that this is the first administration to plan and budget for the cost of health care. When Medicare Part D was passed, there was no cost planning - except to raise the cost by prohibiting volume pricing for drugs. With health care reform, we can negotiate lower prices for drugs and services.
Those who worry about loss of choice of doctors or medical plans are not listening. Right now, choice is limited only to the healthy, to those who can pay and to those of us lucky enough to be on Medicare. With comprehensive reform, everyone will be able to choose their current insurer and doctor, or another private insurance plan, or a public plan - none of which will be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or disabling disease. Now that's choice.
The town hall meetings being held across the country this month are an excellent opportunity to explore this complex issue. Unfortunately, many people have felt compelled to drown out all conversation at these meetings, screaming about euthanasia and other nonsense. There is no truth to this silliness, and the loud rudeness is unproductive. Fortunately, here in Routt County most of us welcome civil discourse about important issues. I look forward to joining our community in such discussions.
In summary, if you are positive that you will always have enough money to pay for your health insurance, no matter how high the premiums go and if you are certain that you will never be diagnosed with cancer or another disabling disease, perhaps the status quo is what you want. On the other hand, if you want our country to join the nations with the highest health ratings, if you want to lower the cost of everyone's health care premiums, and if you want to guarantee that nobody's insurance can be canceled because of disabling illness, ask your legislators to develop deficit-neutral comprehensive health care reform.