Amer­i­can Health­care: An Oxy­moron

The above head­line is from an inter­est­ing arti­cle in a Cana­dian pub­li­ca­tion the “Finan­cial Post” and was writ­ten by Diane Fran­cis, a jour­nal­ist who took an out­side look at the US health­care sys­tem and com­pared it to the Cana­dian sys­tem. Ms. Francis’s views add some inter­est­ing insights into the health­care sys­tem in the US and the dis­cus­sion, or lack thereof, related to this issue.

In the arti­cle, Ms. Fran­cis starts off by com­par­ing the two sys­tems and con­cludes, “Cana­di­ans are lucky on this one. We may have line-​ups and our news­pa­pers may occa­sion­ally pub­lish hor­ror sto­ries about some­one left in a gur­ney for hours out­side an emer­gency room. But the U.S. sys­tem is the worst-​executed in the world and its pri­vate sec­tor inter­ests have con­vinced the gov­ern­ment to insure the riski­est peo­ple namely vet­er­ans, indi­gents and seniors while leav­ing the gravy to private-​sector insurers.”

The arti­cle notes that the US gov­ern­ment pro­vides insur­ance for almost half of the Amer­i­cans who are insured. But that half are the high­est risk por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion that will incur the most expenses. The arti­cle also sug­gests that there are two types of med­ical sys­tems in the US. One sys­tem is for the well-​off with insur­ance where med­ical costs are passed off to those pay­ing for the insur­ance. The arti­cle sug­gests that the sec­ond med­ical sys­tem “takes care of the old, dis­abled, impov­er­ished or mil­i­tar­ily wounded.”

In her arti­cle Diane Fran­cis also com­ments on the human side of the US health­care and notes, “It’s hard to imag­ine the human suf­fer­ing that has resulted from this sit­u­a­tion. Cana­di­ans don’t have the anx­i­ety about health­care that under­lies Amer­i­can exis­tence. Peo­ple there don’t leave jobs, don’t start new ones or busi­nesses because they fear los­ing insur­ance benefits.”

The arti­cle lists a series of facts about the US health care sys­tem that helped Ms Fran­cis come to her con­clu­sions. These facts are:

  • The United States is spend­ing 15.3% of its Gross National Prod­uct (GNP) on med­i­cine and that doesn’t include the cost of lit­i­ga­tion over med­ical bills.
  • There are 49 mil­lion peo­ple with­out any insur­ance. The same num­ber are inad­e­quately insured.
  • Despite that short­fall, the U.S. spends about $5,700 per capita com­pared with Canada’s $2,900 and has worse results in areas such as lifes­pan or infant mortality.
  • Some esti­mate is that half of the per­sonal bank­rupt­cies in the U.S. are because of high med­ical bills due to a cat­a­strophic illness.

In a pre­vi­ous arti­cle by Ms. Fran­cis ear­lier in the year, she notes one of the glar­ing facts about the US health­care sys­tem and states, “Health spend­ing is ris­ing faster than incomes in most devel­oped coun­tries, which raises ques­tions about how these coun­tries will pay for future health care needs. The issue may be par­tic­u­larly acute in the United States, which not only spends much more per capita on health care than any other coun­try, but which also has had one of the fastest growth rates in health spend­ing among devel­oped countries.”

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