June 29, 2011 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

As we're all aware, the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not provide its citizens with some form of universal health care. Are we special, or are we stupid?

We're certainly not special. Former President George W. Bush enjoyed proclaiming that we have "the best medical care in the world", but he notoriously never met a fact he could understand. The U.S. is near the bottom of the rankings for two critical measures of a nation's overall health - infant mortality and longevity. And we're near the bottom for many more health care parameters.

Yes, the U.S. has the most technologically advanced medical care. But as a Dartmouth Institute study - Health Care Spending, Quality, and Outcomes - showed with crystalline clarity, more is most decidedly not better.

So are we stupid? Yes, and what's worse we're blindingly selfish. On 11-16-09, the lead article in The  New York Times was titled Drug Companies Increase Prices in Face of Change. Pharma fees in 2009 were described as representing the "highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992".

Pharma, never known for being shy when it comes to grabbing money, is merely following the notorious example of U.S. financial institutions. Having been propped up by citizen taxes, these desperadoes have awarded themselves $30 billion in bonuses for 2009.

Back to stupidity. According to a 2007 survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, 50% of respondents failed a 23-question general knowledge exam. Sarah Palin's sound bite on "death panels" was believed by millions. At this point, most  Americans are not smarter than a fifth grader. Understanding the imperatives of universal health care as well as the economic losses of our current non-system is beyond the grasp of many tens of millions of Americans.

In such a climate, how can universal health care possibly take root?

Many Americans decry "socialized medicine". They do not realize the U.S. non-system is already has significant "socialization". American citizens subsidize tax-deductible employer health benefits as well as the emergency department utilization of the 47+ million uninsured. Our tax dollars pay for tax-deductible health benefits of others and our high insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs subsidize emergency department accounts receivable.

All Americans pay a significant ongoing hidden tax representing loss of productivity and loss of quality of life of the 47+ million uninsured. These individuals are less healthy. Their productivity and contributions to society are constrained. Our total resources are drained proportionately. These are subtle distinctions which are lost on many Americans. But economics are only part of the discussion. Common human decency could be the paramount consideration. However, America daily becomes more fossilized in its me-ness. And me-ness becomes mean-ness with no effort at all. "Me first" is becoming the national slogan, blaring from the Senate and House of Representatives floors and bleating from the smug, self-righteous proclamations of finance CEOs and directors.

Democracy without humanity easily degrades into tyranny. The tyranny of the majority.

Health care is a right. The polity of every other developed country recognizes this. Universal health care is necessary in the U.S.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

2 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy , Bioethics in the Media , Doctor-Patient Relationships , Health Care Policy , Health Insurance


Robert D. Hopkins

Robert D. Hopkins wrote on 07/06/11 1:09 PM

Alas, I can only agree. Impossible to predict how far the dumbing-down will go.

David wrote on 07/11/11 7:21 PM

And yet Americans can be capable of resoundingly good judgment. The next 18 months should be very interesting from a political perspective.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.