Falsehoods muddy health care debate

    On May 30, Small Business Times ran an article headlined, "Antidotes for high health care costs," which quoted Linda Gorman, a senior fellow from the Independence Institute.

    A number of her statements were false. The most serious problem was her statement: "If you look around the world, the countries with government controlled health care, their quality is poor and their costs are higher."

    If Gorman had studied actual statistics of health care systems around the world or traveled, she would have known that statement was false. In all the developed countries in the world, the government plays a larger role than ours in health care. Most of these systems have better health care quality statistics than the U.S. and much lower per capita cost.

    Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show the exact opposite of what Gorman stated.

    The United States is ranked 37th in the world in health care, in spite of the fact that experts agree we have the best technology and the best physician training. However, the U.S. has an infant mortality rate almost twice as high as the better health care systems.

    The U.S. has one of the lowest healthy life expectancies in the developed world and yet our system costs much more per capita than any other system in the world. One shameful area of quality in the U.S. is our death rate from medical error, which is one of the worst in the developed world and a factor of five worse than Japan.

    There is no question that our superior technology makes us a magnet for the wealthy with advanced cancers from all over the world. But the average health care available to our general population is inferior in a lot of measures even for those of us who are insured.

    A study by Harvard Medical School shows that average Canadian is much healthier than the average American and a study by the American Medical Association shows the average Englishman is healthier than his American counterpart, even adjusting for economic status.

    Some of the reasons for the better outcomes have to do with universal coverage and the emphasis in the practice of health care on prevention. Universal coverage means that everyone has access and care can be applied early in the course of an illness. Many uninsured in the U.S. don’t seek treatment until their illness has progressed where cost is astronomical and outcomes are poor.

    Every country in the developed world recognizes the importance of universal coverage, and even countries like Taiwan that relied on a system like ours found that to keep costs under control, universal coverage was a must and government had to play a role in regulating the cost and quality of care.

    Where medical insurance companies in the U.S. drive as much as 30 percent of the cost, in other developed countries, they play a much smaller role or in many cases are not existent.

    The medical insurance industry, HMOs and large drug companies make a huge profit in our current system. They do not want things to change and have spent enormous sums creating disinformation.

    One of their favorite targets is the English system (ranked 18th in the world, compared with our 37th.)
    Can free enterprise make for better health care? Absolutely, the best systems in the world use a combination of government and consumer driven solutions. It’s too bad that so-called "experts" pontificate about health care in the rest of the world without knowing anything about it.

    Joseph Geck, a Waukesha business executive, consults and speaks on international issues such as health care and trade.

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