Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Medicare, Medicaid and real terrorism

When the government financed health insurance programs of Medicare and Medicaid became law in the US in 1965 I was halfway through medical school. The profession for which I was being trained had fought government financing tooth and nail but couldn't stop it this time (consider what the chances would be in the current Congress!). Ironically, "third-party payers" paid physicians for services they had previously performed for free or very little and did it at a handsome rate. The uniformly high incomes most people associate with the medical profession is largely a post-Medicare phenomenon.

But not just doctors benefitted. So did millions who previously could not afford any medical care, especially the elderly covered under Medicare. Today we have gone backwards. An excellent article by Holly Sklar (via Common Dreams) makes the required points:
If Americans without health insurance were a nation, the population would be bigger than Canada -- plus Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire and Vermont. Canada, like other industrialized nations besides ours, provides universal health coverage.

Contrary to myth, the United States does not have the world's best health care. It has the costliest.

In the words of Dr. Christopher Murray of the World Health Organization (WHO), "Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you're an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries."

The United States is just No. 29 in the WHO healthy life expectancy ranking. We lag Canada by nearly three years and Japan by nearly six.

The United States does worse than 36 countries in child mortality under age five -- well behind South Korea and Singapore.
We are distinguished in some important health indices, however. We spend more than anyone else on health care, 15% of our Gross Domestic Product (the European average is 8.6%). We have the fewest physicans, nurses and hospital beds per person and fewer MRIs and CT scanners than the average of the 30 countries in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). And if you believe having a single-payer government financed plan in the US would cause long waits for medical care, Sklar reports that "Americans had more difficulty making appointments with physicians quickly than people in Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, and were more likely to delay or forgo treatment because of cost."

If you think about the money squandered in the self-inflicted Homeland Security debacle and consider how much genuine security could have been purchased for the humdreds of millions of Americans being held up for their money and put at risk of life and limb by pharmaceutical and insurance companies and their paid representatives in Congress, you wonder who the real terrorists are.

If we had Health Care for All, paid for by all, for the benefit of all, we'd all be safer and more secure.