On Comparing Health Care Systems

by Bea Garth, copyright 2008

I was just listening to Charlie Rose. He had T.R. Reid on who has written an important book about health care. He has examined health care systems in other developed countries and compared their systems to that in America.

As he tells it, despite our health care system being one of the most expensive in the world it is also one of the least accessible (i.e. not affordable) to the public. In France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and even Canada etc. no one goes bankrupt due to financial losses from hospital costs etc. In many cases one isn’t even charged. Paying for good health care in other developed countries has become a non-issue.

We often get the impression that our doctors are better, however it apparently isn’t true. They just get paid better, as do the insurance companies — at our expense.

I personally think that fear of what might happen to one when one is old and sick or if one might have a freak accident or disease, motivates many Americans to be more conservative and fearful of rocking the boat than they might otherwise be. I believe our health care system as it is, is one more factor that erodes our basic freedoms as a people. It often makes us duck our heads and just attend to our own business since many of us are afraid, if we don’t, we might endanger our jobs and thus our ability to pay for health care — not to speak of food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This in the “land of the free”!

The whole health care fiasco in this country reminds me of what happened in California when the public utilities were privatized. We were promised how much more efficient and motivated the producers of energy would be and thus how through the market we would end up with lower energy costs. Instead what we got was a cartel of businesses in effect — where we the consumers got shafted and the producers charged whatever they felt they could get away with.

Now we have a medical system that charges whatever it feels like it can get away with. Thus far we the poor public are at their mercy since health is such a basic need for everyone–and yet our government has no system that watches the costs of the doctors, drug suppliers or the insurance companies.

I saw a segment on the popular television program 60 Minutes roughly a month ago about a charity medical association called Remote Area Medical (R.A.M). The were originally were designed to go into remote areas like the Amazon Jungle. But now 60% of their time is spent going to various cities and rural areas here in America since the need here is so great. At this one stop in Knoxville, Tenn., they treated 970 people, but had to turn 400 more away since R.A.M. only had so much time and resources to give. They operate on a shoestring budget of $250,000 a year. Amazingly, last year they treated 17,000 patients despite their low budget.

Some potential clients at the Knoxville site had driven two or more hours to get medical attention — and faced being turned away. This crisis we now have with our medical system would never be tolerated in other developed countries! It would be considered a high scandal rather than just another regrettable but interesting incident about “life in America” reported on 60 Minutes.

I certainly hope that our new president, whomever he or she will be, can finally get us on the road to a better health care system like what they have in Europe, Japan or Canada.

Given everything else going down, I just hope it is not too little too late!

Categories: social and political commentary by Bea Garth

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