Take a moment to examine the following chart, which displays approximate per capita health care costs for 16 developed nations:
Of course the first thing that one notices is the fact that the United States is the biggest spender per capita – the biggest in the world, to be precise. The U.S. total is more than 50% higher than number 2 Norway, and twice the average of the remaining 15 countries in the chart. A common – and perhaps natural – assumption is that we pay more because we get more. After all, the American medical system is the best in the world, right?
Measuring the performance of a nation’s health care system is a relatively tricky endeavor, but in my mind one need only look at the absolute bottom line: life expectancy. What, after all, is the purpose of health care if not to maximize the number of years of life? And here is where we find a shocking realization – shocking, that is, to most Americans: life expectancy in the United States is lower than every other country in the chart. And not just these fifteen countries – the U.S. ranks behind or ties with no less than 37 countries, including, of all places, Cuba and the U.S. territory Puerto Rico. That’s right, folks: Puerto Rico has a higher life expectancy than the United States.
But look more closely, and the absurdities continue to mount. At the bottom end of the spectrum in this chart is Japan, which spends roughly 1/3 per capita on health care as the United States. And yet according to the United Nations, Japan has the longest life expectancy of all nations on earth – 82.6 years, to be precise, compared to the paltry 78.2 of the United States.
Obviously there are other factors to take into consideration here, such as differences in diet and the related obesity epidemic that is currently plaguing the nation. But the bottom line is that the United States spends nearly three times as much per capita as Japan, and yet achieves results on par with developing nations like Cuba, Costa Rica and Slovenia. Clearly, something is wrong with the American system.
America’s privatized health care system has resulted in exorbitant costs and suboptimal results. When profits are the main consideration in administering health care, the inevitable outcome is what we now have: bloated costs, ensuring maximum profits for insurers and suppliers, but an embarrassingly inadequate level of care. The U.S. health care system is designed not to prevent and cure illnesses, but to deliver dollars into the pockets of corporations.
Access to health care should be considered a fundamental human right, alongside access to clean water, healthy food, and a basic level of education. But even aside from the ethical aspects, a for-profit health care system is undesirable for purely practical reasons. The innate greed of the modern corporation ensures that privatized health care will merely create artificially inflated prices while delivering insufficient outcomes, as the facts amply demonstrate. Anyone who still clings to the old for-profit system is either a shameless corporate shill, or a proudly uninformed conservative.