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Healthcare in America - Wasatch Wave (12/12/12)

The very first thing required to address a problem is to admit that one exists. This is true whether the problem is addiction, a faulty marriage, a leaky roof or healthcare in America. Too often we pretend the problem doesn’t exist or is not really as bad as it seems. The latter is reinforced with a barrage of anecdotes or excuses to rationalize the need to “stay the course” or worse, make changes that make the problem even worse.

America has one of the better healthcare systems in the world but it isn’t nearly the best and costs more than any other. We spend almost 18% of our total nation’s gross national product on healthcare – almost double the average percentage of other wealthy nations. This works out to about $2.6 trillion per year or $8400 per year for every one of our 310 million citizens. To compound the problem, we have approximately 50 million citizens that have no insurance coverage and must depend on expensive emergency rooms for their healthcare. If we did nothing more than reduce our per capita healthcare costs to that of most other wealthy nations, we would more than eliminate the annual deficit without the need to cut any other programs or raise taxes.

One of the rationalizations we use to accept this higher cost is that the quality of healthcare in America is superior that that of other countries. While examples to support that position can be found anecdotally, America doesn’t do very well where specific measurables like longevity, infant mortality, and maternal mortality are identified. In fact, we are at or near the bottom of wealthy nations for these and other well documented healthcare indicators. We are also not the best on parameters like waiting time to see a physician although many of us would like to believe this myth.

The Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) will, when implemented, provide insurance to many who currently lack coverage but it does little to reduce overall costs. Many on the political left and right, including myself, don’t like Obamacare because it doesn’t significantly address the cost issue and only addresses the quality issue by removing people from emergency rooms to direct access to physicians.  It is, however, better than the status quo and the proffered alternatives.

America could copy the healthcare system of almost any other wealthy nation and reduce our costs and improve quality. Hopefully, we’ll cut the partisan bickering and seriously look at what others have shown works.

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