The United States is currently in the middle of an identity crisis. So often, it seems citizens and politicians claim America is the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. In some cases, this is true.
The United States spends more money on its military than any other country. It also incarcerates the most of its citizens compared to other first-world countries. However, there is one category in which the United States falls far behinds its national brethren: health care.
The United States spends far more than any other country, per capita, on health care, according to an article in the Washington Post. In that, at least, the U.S. is still number one. However, while that money does buy a lot of expensive equipment, it does not bring the U.S. to the top of the list in two important categories: average life span and infant mortality rate.
The same Washington Post article reveals that the U.S. average life span ranks 27th out of Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries, right around the same life span as countries like Chile and the Czech Republic. Disappointing results considering the U.S. spends almost four-and-a-half times as much as those countries. According to another report in the Washington Post, the U.S. also ranks 27th in infant mortality, with 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 births, putting the country behind Hungary and Slovakia.
So, if the United States spends more than any other country on health care, why does it rank so low in critical categories of health? Part of the issue is that people cannot afford to seek out health care. A CNBC report showed that medical costs were the number one cause of bankruptcies in the United States, affecting nearly 2 million people per year.
Beyond those bankruptcies, another 20 percent of the population will still have medical bills. Leaving 56 million people with an enormous economic burden on them and their families. Millions of Americans will skip doses of prescriptions and elect not to have necessary procedures because the of the financial burden it creates.
No matter how much money the country spends on fancy hospital equipment, it will not help the population if there is a financial barrier to access. The barrier to access has a greater effect than just making the United States look bad in global rankings.
The Harvard Gazette reported that 45,000 people die in the U.S. every year because of lack of insurance. This was before Obamacare made insurance mandatory, however it still shows the impact of unaffordable health care. The study also found that the uninsured had a 40 percent higher risk of death than their insured counterparts.
Middle-lower class U.S. citizens are having to choose between putting food on the table and taking life-saving medications. A difficult choice that top CEOs don’t have to make because, on average, they make 300 times more annually than minimum wage workers, according to Fortune magazine.
All this is not to say there is not hope. In September, prior presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a “Medicare for All” bill to the U.S. Senate. This bill would make the U.S. health care system a lot more like Canada’s, where federal taxes pay for a federal insurance system. This insurance system in turn pays the private hospitals and other health-related companies.
This bill would allow for comprehensive coverage, including vision and dental to all eligible U.S. citizens. Veterans and Native Americans would keep their current federal benefits. The cost to the American public would not be any more significant than the taxes they pay now, according to Sanders.
The reduction in medical expenditures, as well as a provision that would finally allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for pricing, would ultimately cost the U.S. taxpayer less than what is currently paid, Sanders believes.
Some politicians try to use the Canadian system as a scare tactic to dissuade people from supporting similar systems for the U.S. However, the horror stories conservatives often spread about wait times and the loss of U.S. doctors to more profitable climates are simply not true.
The New York Times reported that Canadian doctors love their system. It requires less paperwork than the U.S. system and there’s no need to try to tailor treatment to what a private insurance company will pay. Canadian doctors say they feel more comfortable suggesting surgeries or other costly treatments than they would if patients had to pay for them out of pocket.
The long lines argument is also currently being addressed by the Canadian government, and is mostly due to a lack of specialists. The United States, however, has an abundance of specialists, so that issue is more than likely country specific.
Most other top countries in the world have decided health care is a right of the people, not a privilege of the rich. The United States has been very slow to adopt that mentality. A system that bankrupts the sick and needy, forcing them to choose between food and medicine, is archaic.
Only by joining other wealthy nations of the world and guaranteeing equal access to quality health care for all, can the United States truly be considered a top nation again.