Figures from the World Health Organization clearly show that The United States lags behind 36 other countries in overall health system performance ranging from infant mortality, to adult mortality, to life expectancy.
20 countries in Europe and four countries in Asia have a better life expectancy than the US.
If you are a male between the ages of 15 and 59, your chances of dying are higher in the US (140 per thousand) than in Canada, 95, Costa Rica 127, Chile 134, and Cuba, 138.
The US Health system looks especially dysfunctional when you consider how much money we spend per capita on healthcare - $6,000 plus per year, twice as much as any other country - and how little we get for it.
Canada spends $2,163 and boasts a life expectancy of 79.8 years, two and a half years longer than the US. Their infant mortality rate per thousand is also better than ours, as is their adult mortality rate.
Switzerland spends about 11% of its Gross Domestic Product on universal health care for all its citizens, while the US (with 50 million uninsured this year) spends 15% of GDP with embarrassing results.
One grand irony, Cuba whose economy has been bankrupt for the last decade -- food shortages, drug shortages, chronic unemployment, etc. - and which annually spends a miserly $185 per person on health care, has better infant and adult mortality rates than the US, and has a life expectancy nearly equal to ours.
Why has our vaunted free enterprise system - which has produced such great benefits in delivery of most goods and services - failed so completely with regard to this most fundamental need?
Simple, buyers don't shop for health care. Sick people don't negotiate with doctors or hospitals or drug companies. They don't care what it costs; insurance or the government will pay. This vulnerability has been exploited and hijacked by greedy doctors, drug companies, insurers, personal injury lawyers, HMOs, and hospitals. About 50% of health care funds never even get to doctors or hospitals - which themselves run bloated operations.
Maybe we have finally reached the "Tipping Point". Not because people are needlessly dying, but because big business is being crippled by astronomical health costs.
US companies - with employer funded health plans - are having a hard time competing in world markets. General Motors spends more on worker health care ($1,400 per vehicle) than they spend on steel for each car they produce. "The three big auto makers are "HMOs on wheels" says Goldman Sachs analyst Gary Lapidus.
Employer funded health insurance is a relic of the past according to the growing clamor by big business. We don't want to pay for it any more and the added costs make our products uncompetitive in world markets.
The new Massachusetts law mandating health insurance - just as the state requires auto insurance - is a bold leap into an uncertain future, but it is an ad hoc band-aid which hopefully will lead to something more.
The long-term answer is obvious. Adopt a single-payer system like Canada's. Not socialized medicine. Doctors would remain private. By cutting out the bureaucracy, needless lawsuits, and curbing greed, the US could save 50% of the monies now being squandered, more than enough to cover the 50 million uninsured, according to a General Accounting Office and Congressional Budget Office report.
Ironically, we already have a successful single-payer healthcare program. Medicare, which covers people over 65, has an administrative and overhead cost of just 2%. Compare this low figure with the $399 billion spent on administrative middleman services in the free-market sector of health care last year. The simple step of data sharing of medical records could save $140 billion per year according too a recent Federal study.
Critics charge that a single-payer system would lead to a rationing of medicine and long waits. But we already ration medicine, not by need, or efficacy of the treatment, but by how much money you have. If you are rich, you can have all you want. If you are poor, unemployed, self-employed, sorry. 18,000 Americans die each year for lack of care according to the Institute of Medicine.
The right says that single-payer systems have not been adequately tested. But this is an obvious pretext by for-profit interest groups. Single-payer systems have been worked for many decades in 20 countries around the world.
The facts are clear: single-payer systems work and they save money. The Germans, French, Australians, Swiss, and Canadians all benefit from universal healthcare at less than half the cost that Americans pay for an incomplete system. Our for-profit healthcare system is a gambling scheme with the explicit goal of excluding the sick.
Good luck Massachusetts. Maybe your example, big business, and growing outrage will goad the dithering federal government into action.
Someday, inevitably, America will join the civilized world and provide universal care. It should be sooner rather than later.
*Blake Fleetwood graduated from Bard College and did graduate work at Columbia University. He has also taught politics at New York University.
He was formerly on the staff of The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, Atlantic and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.