Dealing With Health Care

Our health care system received considerable attention from President Obama in his recent “State of the Union” speech to Congress.  And for good reason–our privately run health care system has been a disaster.  It is doing a poor job keeping us healthy—as individuals and as a country. 

The failings of our health system on a personal level are well documented.  According to a 2007 study by the Commonwealth Fund:

“Despite having the most costly health system in the world, the United States consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries. . . . Compared with five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom—the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives.”

The failings of our health system on a national level are also well documented.  As President Obama noted in his speech, rising health care costs are one of the main drivers of our alarming projected federal budget deficits.  If we want to contain the deficit we are going to have to transform our health care system. 

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has created a Health Care Cost-Adjusted Deficit Calculator which allows us to see what would happen to our federal deficit if we had the same per person health care costs as do some 30 other countries (all of which have longer life expectancies than the United States).  Go here to see the calculator – pick another country and then watch our federal deficit just melt away when we match its per person health care cost. 

So, we need a new health care system, and badly—but what kind of system?  The California Nurses Association, along with many other groups of health care professionals, strongly advocates adoption of a Medicare-for-all single payer system.  Besides offering better care, to more people (right now some 47 million people have absolutely no health care coverage—that is 14% of the population), and for less money, the CNA also finds that such a system will have broad economic benefits.  In particular, its research (based on an  econometric study) finds that moving to a single payer system “predicated upon full Medicare benefits” would generate some 2.6 million new jobs.

The next move belongs to President Obama. To his credit he appears committed to building a health care system that will offer universal coverage.  Unfortunately, he also appears committed to allowing the private insurance industry to play a major role in running it.  As long as our elected leaders continue to avoid single payer strategies, their efforts at meaningful health care reform are likely to produce only limited gains.

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