Perhaps one of the most brazen lies to pass conservative lips during the health-care debate was also the simplest. As Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) put it, “I do believe we have the best health care system in the world.” Barrasso followed that jaw-dropping statement with an anecdote. “That’s why the premier of one of the Canadian provinces came here just last week to have his heart operated on,” Barrasso noted. “He said, ‘It’s my heart, it’s my life. I want to go where it’s the best.’ And he came to the United States.”
We do have excellent health care in this country—perhaps the best—for those who can afford it. Say, for example, a Canadian premier. And it’s also true that a majority of Americans have access to at least decent health care. The reason this is not good enough is simple: we spend a great deal more on health care than any other industrialized nation does, yet millions of Americans have terrible coverage—a 2008 study found that one in five people under the age of sixty-five was under-insured6—and tens of millions more can’t get any health care outside of the emergency room.
If you spend $150,000 on a Ferrari and beat-up old Pintos consistently outrace you, the fact that you don’t get beaten too badly is hardly something to brag about.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the growth in health-care costs, which will “bend” downwards somewhat if the Affordable Care Act is implemented, continues apace:
Health spending is rising faster than incomes in most developed countries, which raises questions about how countries will pay for their future health care needs. The issue is particularly acute in the United States, which not only spends much more per capita on health care, but also has had one of the highest spending growth rates. Both public and private health expenditures are growing at rates which outpace comparable countries. Despite this higher level of spending, the United States does not achieve better outcomes on many important health measures.
In 1960, we spent less than 5 percent of the gross domestic product on health care, and all but a small number of working-age Americans had access to care. Today, health-care spending represents around 18 percent of our economic output, and about one in six citizens lacks coverage.
Oh, and if we spent the same on health-care per person as any of the 35 countries with longer life expectancies than our own, within a few short years those deficits everyone’s sweating would turn into surpluses.
*Numbers other than KFF’s are from my book.
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