T.R. Reid, author of “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Healthcare,” recently wrote an article for Newsweek comparing the American health care system to the systems in other developed countries. The subtitle of the article is “To judge the content of a nation’s character, look no further than its health-care system,” and you can imagine where it goes from there. Reid notes that the U.S. is the only developed country that does not provide universal health care, and he quotes the facts that result: 22,000 Americans die per year because they can’t afford a doctor, and 700,000 Americans go bankrupt each year due to medical bills.
Reid compares this to Europe, where they approach health care with an emphasis on equality, on providing service to everyone. Here are some key quotes from Europeans regarding their view on health care:
- A French physician: “But when we get sick – then, yes: everybody is equal.”
- A former president of Switzerland: “Because it is a profound need for people to be sure, if they are struck by the stroke of destiny, they can have a good health system.”
- A Swedish health minister: “The formula is so simple: health care for everybody, paid for by everybody.”
- The Czech constitution: “health care for all.”
Reid sums it up: “The principle seems so obvious to people in Europe, Canada and the East Asian democracies that health officials asked me over and over to explain why it isn’t obvious to Americans as well.”
In America, on the other hand, we approach health care with an emphasis on freedom of choice, particularly during this summer of health care debates. But it’s not true freedom, since those without insurance are, in fact, denied any choice at all.
Reid again: “In the U.S., in contrast, some people have access to just about everything doctors and hospitals can provide. But others can’t even get in the door (until they are sick enough to need emergency care). That amounts to rationing care by wealth. This seems natural to Americans; to the rest of the developed world, it looks immoral.”
Republicans this summer tried to frame the issue as industrious workers supporting the lazy unemployed and uninsured, but that’s a canard. This frame ignores reality. To look at reality, take two factory workers: one is employed by GM, and has thus insurance, and the other is employed by a small local factory which doesn’t provide insurance. They are equally industrious, equally hard working, but the one without insurance is more likely to skip his doctors visits and – statistically speaking – more likely to die. Or take Nikki White, who was industrious and employed, until she became too sick with lupus to work, thus lost her insurance, was unable to afford the care she needed, and soon died.
The issue is not one of who works hard. The issue is whether we, as a society, want to let the people who randomly get sick (or randomly don’t have insurance) go bankrupt or die, simply because of their random bad luck. As Reid notes, this is a moral issue, and I don’t believe that American morals have decayed this far. We are better than this. We live in America, the greatest and richest country in the world. This country was founded on the premise that “all men are created equal,” remember? Not “all healthy men” or “all wealthy men.” Do we really want to live in a country that allows people to die purely because of their financial situation? I don’t think we do.
FYI, here is a New Republic article on the moral dimension of health care.