Not that I expect Congress and the American People to suddenly snap to attention, and say “Oh, right, science and verifiable, factual data, that’s what we should be paying attention to when formulating policy!”, not the raving fantasies of the loonies who have been running the show for the past decade and a half.
But it would be nice.
One of the most insidious myths Americans still swallow whole in our unyielding belief of our American Exceptionalism, despite all truth to the contrary, is that the American health care system is the best in the world.
Well, here is a news flash, as reported in the Washington Post.
It is not.
A thorough study of the 17 wealthiest developed nations, which looked at all factors so apples were being compared with apples, not oranges, ranks the U.S. health care delivery and outcomes in a very special position: DEAD LAST.
And as the author of the Washington Post article points out, after age 65, when Americans have access to universal healthcare, i.e. Medicare, which costs only five percent overhead because it is not a profit generating private insurance delivery system, guess what happens to how our delivery, outcomes, and longevity of those lucky enough to live to 65?
We suddenly catch up with and match the outcomes of the rest of the 17 nations. Most of which already have health care delivery systems in place like Medicare, that insure health care delivery to the entire population, from birth.
January has turned out to be a banner month for fans of American exceptionalism. As documented in voluminous detail in a 404-page report released last week by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, Americans lead shorter lives than Western Europeans, Australians, Japanese and Canadians. Of the 17 countries measured, the United States placed dead last in life expectancy, even though we lead the planet in the amount we spend on health care (17.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 vs. 11.6 percent each for France and Germany). We get radically less bang for the buck than comparable nations. If that’s not exceptionalism, I don’t know what is.
But a funny thing happens to Americans’ life expectancy when they age. The U.S. mortality rate is the highest of the 17 nations until Americans hit 50 and the second-highest until they hit 70. Then our mortality ranking precipitously shifts: By the time American seniors hit 80, they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world.
What gives? Have seniors discovered the Fountain of Youth? Do U.S. geriatricians outpace all our other physicians?
Part of the answer is Darwinian: Those Americans who have been less able to access reliable medical care, maintain good diets and live in neighborhoods that are not prey to gun violence have disproportionately died off before age 80. That isn’t natural selection but social selection — the survival of the economically fittest in a nation that rations longevity by wealth.
But the larger part of the answer is that at age 65, Americans enter a health-care system that ceases to be exceptional when compared with the systems in the other 16 nations studied. They leave behind the private provision of medical coverage, forsake the genius of the market and avail themselves of universal medical insurance. For the first time, they are beneficiaries of the same kind of social policy that their counterparts in other lands enjoy. And presto, change-o: Their life expectancy catches up with and eventually surpasses those of the French, Germans, Britons and Canadians.