Sunday, August 28, 2005

Health care for all: cheaper than what we've got now

Malcolm Gladwell has a really smart article in this past week's New Yorker on why universal health care has never caught on in the United States, and why the situation is getting worse. Luckily, the article is available to read online:

The Moral-Hazard Myth:
...One of the great mysteries of political life in the United States is why Americans are so devoted to their health-care system. Six times in the past century—-during the First World War, during the Depression, during the Truman and Johnson Administrations, in the Senate in the nineteen-seventies, and during the Clinton years—-efforts have been made to introduce some kind of universal health insurance, and each time the efforts have been rejected. Instead, the United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. Doctors here perform more high-end medical procedures, such as coronary angioplasties, than in other countries, but most of the wealthier Western countries have more CT scanners than the United States does, and Switzerland, Japan, Austria, and Finland all have more MRI machines per capita. Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year—or close to four hundred billion dollars—on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance...
A lot of people automatically assume health care in the United States is better than anywhere else, because, well, God Bless America, I guess. But the facts above clearly show that we could be getting a lot more for the money we already spend.

In California there is a bill (SB 840), sponsored by Democrat state Senator Sheila Kuehl, that would actually save the state money while insuring everyone:
The purpose of Health Care for All—California is to promote comprehensive universal health care using a single payer public finance mechanism. Changing to a universal health care system would save enough money to provide comprehensive coverage and greater benefits by covering everyone under one insurance plan. Health care services would still be delivered through both public and private providers.


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