Here’s an interesting piece by two eminent economists – one a 2015 Nobel Prize winner – on how America, the world’s richest country, came to accept its reliance on a healthcare system that is clearly inferior, by most measures, to that of other developed nations.
It’s a darned good question. Healthcare in the United States routinely costs more and delivers less in terms of outcomes than comparable models that have been around and functioning for a long time now.
I’m not sure how many Americans are aware of this, however. That’s because some of us are much happier with our healthcare than others. Those are the minority blessed with good insurance and enough money to cover all the co-pays and deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. Can’t blame them, but…
Still, I’ve noticed the surprise some Americans express after encountering different ways of doing things in other countries. They became ill or injured – chest pains, respiratory infections, busted limbs, a sudden need for emergency surgery — and realized how much easier it was to get the care they needed.
And as for those hospital and clinic bills – significantly less than in comparable US hospitals and clinics. “Truth is, I never got a bill, from any of the different doctors I saw,” a friend reported, amazed. She wondered if they even had billing departments.
When I was briefly living in Minnesota, I first heard about busloads of US citizens crossing the border into Canada to purchase prescription drugs at deep discount. A Canadian pharmacist offered this explanation during a radio interview: “We can pay less because you down below [he meant us] are paying so much more. Way more, for the same drugs.”
Thanks, was the message. Suckers.
I don’t have time here to examine the alternatives – frankly, there are too many – except to say they do exist, in multiple forms, all shown to be workable elsewhere, and all, as far as I can tell, involving an increase in taxes. That’s the bitter pill that politicians and voters so far haven’t been willing to swallow. I get that – taxation has always been a “third rail” in American politics, since the country’s founding.
Still, as the NYT piece points out, our current system of employer-based healthcare is little more than a tax on our income disguised as a benefit. Counter-intuitive, I know, but think about it: the money is coming out of our pockets, for which we receive too little in return.
Now, with a pandemic temporarily ruling our lives, and tens of millions of Americans out of work, without health coverage – more to come in the very near future – I find myself revisiting this issue.
Maybe we should all take another look.