Think Again: Why Can’t the Media Explain Our Woes (and Why Other Countries Don’t Have Them)?

SOURCE: AP/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress on health care at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on September 9, 2009. Obama is right: We do have a health care system that is unsustainable in the long term, and it comes up short compared to European systems.

The most moving part of President
Barack Obama's powerful speech Wednesday
night was undoubtedly the letter from which
he read, sent to him from "our beloved friend
and colleague" Ted Kennedy.
Kennedy had asked, back in May when he
wrote it, that the letter should not be
opened until after his death.
As Obama reported, Kennedy "expressed
confidence that this would be the year
that health care reform—'that great
unfinished business of our society,'
he called it—would finally pass," and in
doing so, define "the character of
our country."
Indeed, it is amazing that while Kennedy
served for more than four decades in the Senate
and dedicated much of his energy and
superb legislative skills to the passage of
just such a program,
the problem has only gotten worse over time.

Given the degree of the problem, it can be

difficult to understand, writes Serge Halimi,

editor of France's prestigious Le Monde

Diplomatique, why Barack Obama,

who has established himself as one

of America's most effective diagnosticians of w

hat ails our health care system,

is proposing so modest a reform to address

its failures.

As the president told a Montana town hall

meeting this past August,

"We are held hostage by health insurance

companies that deny coverage, or

drop coverage, or charge fees

that people can't afford for care

they desperately need …

We have a health care system that too

often works better for the insurance industry

than it does for the American people."

Halimi answers his own question: "American

politics is so poisoned by money flowing

from industrial and financial lobbies

that the only proposals ensured a

smooth ride through Congress are

those that cut taxes."

Indeed, according to BusinessWeek,

in 15 states more than half of

the "market" is held by one private

health care company, and this kind of

monopoly profit is not going to go off

quietly into the night.

And yet this essential fact is often

missing from a media debate

that focuses on nonexistent,

often crazy issues like imaginary

"death panels" and whether or

not Sarah Palin would be forced

to murder her own child.

Late in the dog days of August,

The Washington Post published a piece

by T.R. Reid, a reporter who has left

the paper and written a book called

The Healing of America: A Global Quest

for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care,

delineating what he called "five myths

about health care around the world."

It's worth reading the piece, not only for

the information it offers, but for the picture

of just how far our debate has drifted

from reality.

Barack Obama is right.

We do have a health care system that is

not only unsustainable in the long term,

but a great shame on the heads of

those of us who can afford to buy

the health care we need whenever we need it.

Not only are the alleged horror stories

about "socialized medicine" untrue,

but its superiority to our own system

is largely absent from our debate.

In addition to the issues Reid raises—I have

not yet read his book—I did some research

on this question while writing Why

We're Liberals, and I found the following:

  • The United States and South Africa are
  • the only two developed countries
  • in the world that do not provide
  • health care for all of their citizens.

  • Nationally, 29 percent of children had
  • no health insurance at some point in the
  • last 12 months, and many get
  • neither checkups nor vaccinations.

  • The United States ranks 84th in the
  • world for measles immunizations and
  • 89th for polio. These figures are
  • particularly shocking given that
  • Americans spend almost two and a
  • half times the industrialized world's median
  • on health care, nearly a third of
  • which is wasted on bureaucracy and administration.

  • 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 19th
  • 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
  • $1000 per capita per year—or close
  • to $400 billion—on health care-related
  • paperwork and administration,
  • whereas Canada, for example,
  • spends only about $300 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 45 million people
  • without any insurance.

  • Meanwhile, the Finns, for instance,
  • devote less than half of what we do
  • to medical care, as a percentage of GDP,
  • and yet their infant mortality rate is
  • half that of the United States—and
  • one-sixth that of
  • African-American babies—while their life
  • expectancy rate is greater.
  • The United States ranked 42 in life expectancy
  • behind not only Japan and most of Europe
  • but also Jordan, Guam, and
  • the Cayman Islands, according to
  • the most recent census figures.

Conservatives, members of the American medical

industrial complex, and other defenders of

the U.S. status quo frequently berate

the European health care alternative

because they say the care that patients

receive there is both less responsive

and less advanced than that available

to Americans, however much more we may

have to pay for ours.

But American patients wait longer,

on average, for routine treatments than

those in France and Germany.

Moreover, hospitals in those two nations

also provide new mothers more than

four days to recover, while insurance

companies insist that doctors

send American mothers home after only two.

Swedes enjoy better success rates

treating cervical and ovarian cancers.

The French best the American system

when it comes to stomach cancer,

Hodgkin's disease, and

non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The French also benefit from more

cancer radiation equipment than Americans.

And despite so many American boasts

on exactly this topic, Germans get the most

hip replacements.

In the area where one hears the loudest

cheers for the American system—making

new cancer treatments available to patients

as quickly (however expensively) as possible,

the United States is merely tied

with Austria, France, and Switzerland.

I could go on—almost indefinitely.

And perhaps there are good reasons why

we cannot match the performances

of all of these countries when it comes

to providing decent health care to

our citizens despite being the wealthiest

nation in the world.

But the arguments related to economic

efficiency are demonstrably false.

Conservatives so consistently denigrate

the amazing achievements of

21st-century Europeans that one can't help

but wonder what has them so worried.

"If you want a lower standard of living,"

conservative policy experts Grace-Marie

Turner and Robert Moffit argued in a

December 2006 op-ed, "the Europeans

have the right prescription."

Their argument echoes views, as The New

Republic's Jonathan Cohn noted,

that are popular across the conservative

spectrum, from Newsweek's Robert Samuelson

("Europe is history's has-been") to The

National Review's Jonah Goldberg ("Europe

has an asthmatic economy") to The New

York Times pundit David Brooks

("The European model is flat-out unsustainable").

Conservatives have been making exactly

these arguments for roughly

five decades now, yet these same European

nations have by almost every

measurement—individual rights and

community, capitalist enterprise and

social solidarity, and even personal

mobility—demonstrated results that

Americans can only envy.

(You can find the details supporting

these claims in chapter one of

Why We're Liberals.)

In the meantime, shouldn't we be

able to at least discuss these issues,

instead of largely ignoring them and

focusing on the shouts and screams

of hysterical crazy people who accuse

our president of being a racist,

a Communist, and a Nazi, only to be

rewarded with guest appearances (and

even their own shows) on Fox?

Can America have fallen so far that this

is our answer to Ted Kennedy regarding

the content of our character?

Barack Obama gave one answer

last night but, let's face it, it rested on

"hope." Congress and the American

people will give a more final answer

in the coming months; let's hope

it demonstrates a different form of

"character" than that on display

on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, alas.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the

Center for American Progress and

a Distinguished Professor of English

at Brooklyn College. He is also

a Nation columnist and

a professor of journalism at the

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

His seventh book, Why We're

Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring

America's Most Important Ideals,

was recently published in paperback.

He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.

com/blogs/altercation and is a regular

contributor to The Daily Beast.

Link here

             J-L K.
Procurement Consultant
Gsm:    (250) (0) 78-847-0205 (Mtn Rwanda)
Gsm:    (250) (0) 75-079-9819 (Rwandatel)
Home:  (250) (0) 25-510-4140
    P.O. Box 3867
  Kigali - RWANDA
    East AFRICA
Blog: http://cepgl.blogspot.com
Skype ID: kayisa66

No comments:

Post a Comment