The facts on health care say differently

We are paying health taxes AND insurance
By Nathaniel Brown | Apr 12, 2013


Mr. Pierre’s Op-Ed piece on American health care made interesting reading, but much as one can agree with aspects of what he says, there are omissions.

His first thesis was that Americans don’t have to wait as long for medical treatment as do Canadians and citizens of the UK.  This may be true on an anecdotal level, but persons with serious medical issues do receive very effective treatment in those countries.

Moreover, The Commonwealth Fund (June 23, 2010) states, “There is a frequent misperception that [long waits] are inevitable; but patients in the Netherlands and Germany have quick access to specialty services and face little out-of-pocket costs…”

As to costs, the National Bureau of Economic Research (April 11, 2013) states:

“The U.S. spends more on health care than other wealthy nations - in 2006, health care expenditures were 15 percent of GDP in the U.S., compared to 11 percent in France and Germany, 10 percent in Canada, and 8 percent in the United Kingdom and Japan. Yet health outcomes in the U.S. are generally no better than those in other countries...”

The assertion that health care is “cost-free” in those countries is simply not true: it is paid for through taxes.

In the US, Mr. Pierre points out, “… no one in this country… is ever turned away from a hospital emergency room” – and if they are not ensured, where does the money come from?  Taxes.

Thus we are paying health taxes AND insurance.

If the system worked, perhaps that would be fine, but when Mr. Pierre asserts, “the health industry in this country, with all its faults, beats any other system on earth,” he is less well informed.

Consider: according to the CDC, 48.2 million Americans are uninsured – that’s 18.2 percent of the population.

According to The Commonwealth Fund, June 23, 2010, “…people in the U.S. go without needed health care because of cost more often than people do in the other countries....”

Let’s look at the effectiveness of our system as it “beats any other system on earth.”

The Commonwealth Fund again:  “Among the seven nations studied—Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last overall, as it did in 2007, 2006, and 2004… the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, coordination, efficiency, and equity.”

(Equity:  “Americans with below-average incomes were much more likely than their counterparts in other countries to report not visiting a physician when sick, not getting a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up care, not filling a prescription, or not seeing a dentist when needed because of costs…” - ibid)

And, “The U.S. ranks last overall with poor scores on all three indicators of long, healthy, and productive lives. …” - ibid)

The Institute of Medicine has concluded (Jan 9, 2013) that the US has the seventeenth worst infant mortality rate among peer nations, after Sweden (at 2.5 deaths per 1,000 live births), Japan, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia, the UK, and Canada, with 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 for the US.

I’m very glad that Mr. Pierre has experienced such good health care – as I have.  We are especially lucky to have the Stevens Hospital complex in Edmonds, and I have had very positive experiences at Edmonds Family Medicine.  When we get good care in the US, it is among the best that can be had.

But it is too expensive, too inefficient, and too inequitable – and getting worse.  Lawyers may be part of it, as Mr. Pierre believes.  But it’s more complex than that, and we need to demand better!


Nat Brown

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