"A health care system that leaves its citizenry pulling out their teeth with pliers"

Categories: Health Care
Anyone who pays much attention to such matters knows that there are terrible problems with the American health care system. But nobody explains it any better than the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell. In "The Moral Hazard Myth," the redoubtable Gladwell dissects the flawed theoretical underpinnings of the private insurance model, which, as he explains, rests chiefly on an exceptionally dim view of human nature. Gladwell's treatise ought to be required reading for every member of the U.S. Congress; check that, it ought to be required reading in every high school civics class. But if you are in a rush to get your blood boiling, this stat-laden excerpt should tide you over until you have a chance to read the story in its entirety.

Gladwell writes:

[T]he United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. Doctors here perform more high-end medical procedures, such as coronary angioplasties, than in other countries, but most of the wealthier Western countries have more CT scanners than the United States does, and Switzerland, Japan, Austria, and Finland all have more MRI machines per capita. Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year—or close to four hundred billion dollars—on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance. A country that displays an almost ruthless commitment to efficiency and performance in every aspect of its economy—a country that switched to Japanese cars the moment they were more reliable, and to Chinese T-shirts the moment they were five cents cheaper—has loyally stuck with a health-care system that leaves its citizenry pulling out their teeth with pliers.
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