Magazine article The New American

The Best Healthcare in the World: Our Healthcare, Though Impeded by Government Intervention, Is Still the World's Best. Adopting a Single-Payer Socialized System Would Lead to Shortages, Frustration, and Failure

Magazine article The New American

The Best Healthcare in the World: Our Healthcare, Though Impeded by Government Intervention, Is Still the World's Best. Adopting a Single-Payer Socialized System Would Lead to Shortages, Frustration, and Failure

Article excerpt

According to some experts, the American healthcare system is on the brink of failure. "We certainly are in a health care crisis," Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, told PBS. "If we had set out to design the worst system that we could imagine, we couldn't have imagined one as bad as we have."

To support her assertion, Angell points out the traditional signs of failure in the healthcare system. Americans, she says, spend more than twice as much as Canadians on healthcare. And, she argues, there is a similar disparity between American and British spending. "We certainly don't get our money's worth," she told PBS. "We have roughly 43 million people with no insurance whatsoever, and among the rest of us, many of us are underinsured. That is, we have shrinking packages. This might be covered, but that won't be covered." What's more, she argues, Americans are unhealthy. "Our life expectancy is shorter. Our infant mortality is higher. Our childhood immunization rate is lower."

This is predominantly the view of those who recommend that the United States develop a system of socialized medicine similar to that employed in Canada or that the current Medicare system be extended to everyone regardless of age. According to Angell, "doctors and patients both know that after enduring the tender mercies of the managed care industry, they might like a little bit of government regulation. In fact, the most successful part of the American health care system is Medicare." According to her, Medicare should be extended to all, in order to fix the healthcare system. We could begin, says Angell, by "extending Medicare decade by decade. Instead of over 65, going over 55. And maybe working up from children toward the middle. Ah, and then we would have a single payer system."

This is a seductive argument, but it proceeds from a faulty premise. While the U.S. healthcare system is costly and does face challenges, the costs were largely brought on by government actions and agencies, not helped by them (see article on page 12), and many problems attributed to our healthcare system--such as high infant mortality and short longevity--aren't a reflection of bad healthcare. Those things have other causes. In fact, the United States has the best healthcare system in the world, despite its being hamstrung by government rules and regulations.

Perceived Problems

In January, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the rate of infant mortality actually increased in the United States in 2002 from the previous year for the first time since 1958. Infant mortality refers to the deaths of children younger than the age of one. Critics of the U.S. healthcare system point to this increase as a key statistic proving that the system is failing. Unfortunately for this thesis, infant mortality is influenced by many criteria other than healthcare.

For instance, there is a direct link between infant mortality and premature birth. Clearly the more premature an infant is when he is born, the greater likelihood of complications. In fact, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services National Center for Health Statistics, complications stemming from short gestation and low birth weight are the second leading causes of infant mortality in the United States. Ironically, the advanced medical technologies used in the United States tend to increase our infant mortality rate, not decrease it. In the United States, advanced technologies and procedures have made it more practical in recent years for medical professionals to attempt to save severely premature infants. Such attempts do not always succeed, adding to the rate of infant mortality. "Resuscitation is more likely to be attempted on extremely premature babies born in the United States than in many other countries," writes Dr. John Abramson in his book, Overdosed America. "The extremely premature babies on whom resuscitation is unsuccessful are then counted as infant deaths, whereas they are counted as fetal deaths when resuscitation has not been attempted. …

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