-By Katherine Storer
Video: 4 Shocking Facts about US Healthcare http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqLdFFKvhH4
As someone with a chronic illness the healthcare system is something I’ve had a lot of experience with. Since I was 9 years old I’ve never walked away from a doctor’s appointment feeling anything other than frustration. I was always met with endless hours waiting for late doctors, copious amounts of obscure tests, and never-ending stares of disbelief. I had large co- pays for each useless visit, expensive prescriptions, uncovered tests, and never any answers. I always knew it was a flawed system, but I never quite understood why.
Did you know that the US spends over 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare which translates to over 2.8 trillion dollars every year? That’s more money than any other country in the world . But what are we getting for all this money? Up until last month I would have told you it bought us better health outcomes: longer lives, less disability, fewer diseases. At least that’s what I figured we should be paying for with all that money. The real answer to that question is something that surprised and angered me more than I thought it would. The truth of the matter is that despite our unrealistically high medical care costs we still live shorter lives and have worse health outcomes than other rich industrialized nations .
In spite of drastically lower rates of both smoking and alcohol consumption, the life expectancy of a baby born in the US is 78 years and yet, a child born 6,500 miles away in Japan is expected to live until the ripe old age of 83 . The last time the World Health Organization ranked the world’s healthcare systems the US came in 37th out of 191 countries . In a country that prides itself on being the best, on achieving the most, and being the land of opportunity, I’m surprised that we accept such subpar standards when it comes to our own health.
To me what’s even worse than the fact that Americans live on average two years less than people in all other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries combined and more than five years less than people in Japan, is that this 2.8 trillion dollars doesn’t even buy everyone health care. According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, there are over 47 million Americans without health insurance . This makes us the only OECD country to not completely or almost completely cover all of our citizens. And the main reason these 47 million people don’t have health insurance? They can’t afford it. People who have incomes below the poverty line are the least likely to have medical coverage and the most likely to have negative health outcomes.
I find it difficult to even call our complicated healthcare a “system” because it’s a non- unified, non-regulated program that consists of private insurance, employer based insurance, government funded insurance, and out of pocket payment. We are left with a broken non-system with unsustainable costs that that are so hard to understand and navigate and that very few people are actually benefiting from.
It’s easy to see where America falls short when you compare our healthcare to other countries around the world. France has lower infant mortality rates, longer life expectancies, 77% government funded universal care, and free cancer treatments. France’s healthcare system was ranked number one by the World Health Organization in 2000, yet they only spend 11% of their GDP on healthcare . The United Kingdom’s National Health Service costs half as much as the US system and includes both universal coverage and private insurance . Colombia’s Healthcare system is progressive which means that people with lower incomes pay less money towards care than people with higher incomes, and Canada’s healthcare financing is considered the fairest in North America. They use a community rating system meaning the sick and elderly don’t have to pay more than the young and healthy to get healthcare .
Yet in America, we employ a regressive experience rating system meaning costs negatively impact individuals with lower incomes more than those with higher incomes while forcing the sickest and poorest in our country to pay more than they can afford. We live in a country that values freedom above all else. A country that lives by the idea that all individuals are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” (Declaration of Independence), yet we fail to recognize healthcare as a basic human right. We treat healthcare as a privilege given only to those rich enough to buy it. And if that doesn’t upset you, then maybe you should spend a day in my shoes.
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