Just to add to Rikki Hall’s excellent Sideways Glance [“Making America Sick,” April 2, 2009] on American healthcare, let’s also consider the following:
1) One of the biggest myths is that the American health care system doesn’t ration. What do you call a system that goes out of its way to provide access to lifestyle drugs (i.e. Viagra) but cannot seem to find money for universal vaccinations? What about a health system that subsidizes in vitro fertilizations but leaves 40 million-plus without basic health insurance? Call it a matter of priorities, but rationing by any other name is... well, you know the Shakespeare quote.
2) Child-immunization rates in the USA are lower then the Western world average. The USA ranks 84th for measles immunizations and 89th for polio. Our infant mortality rates rank in the third world average.
3) American patients wait on average longer for routine medical treatments then do patients in France or Germany (Jonathan Cohn, Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis).
4) Also as pointed out by writer Jonathan Cohn, if you have stomach cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma you’re much better off going to France for treatment then having it done in the USA. Likewise, Germany is a far better place to have hip replacement surgery.
5) Over 25 percent of all health care spending in the USA is spent on administrative overhead, much higher then any other Western nation.
It should be also pointed out that a strong welfare state and a flexible labor market are not irreconcilable, contrary to libertarian/conservative mythology. Hong Kong, for example, which is voted every year by the Heritage Foundation as having the freest market in the world, also has socialized medicine. Its public health system accounts for 89 percent of hospital beds, serves 80 percent of inpatients, and pays for around 95 percent of their costs.
The late Milton Friedman used to say something like, “If it is good enough for Hong Kong then it’s good enough for the rest of the world.” Of course, Friedman was referring to Hong Kong’s low taxes and Ricardian free trade but hey, perhaps the old libertarian had a point, indirectly. If socialized health care is good enough for Hong Kong, why can’t it be good for us?
Andrew Murphy, Talbott, Tenn.