Cuba Has Better Medical Care Than
by Blake Fleetwood
Statistics don't lie.
Figures from the World Health Organization
clearly show that The United States lags behind 36 other countries
in overall health system performance ranging from infant mortality,
to adult mortality, to life expectancy.
20 countries in Europe and four countries
in Asia have a better life expectancy than the U.S. If you are
a male between the ages of 15 and 59, your chances of dying are
higher in the U.S. (140 per thousand) than in Canada, 95, Costa
Rica 127, Chile 134, and Cuba, 138.
The U.S. Health system looks especially
dysfunctional when you consider how much money we spend per capita
on healthcare -- $6,000 plus per year, twice as much as any other
country -- and how little we get for it.
Canada spends $2,163 and boasts a life
expectancy of 79.8 years, two and a half years longer than the
US. Their infant mortality rate per thousand is also better than
ours, as is their adult mortality rate.
Switzerland spends about 11% of its Gross
Domestic Product on universal health care for all its citizens,
while the U.S. (with 50 million uninsured this year) spends 15%
of GDP with embarrassing results.
One grand irony, Cuba whose economy has
been bankrupt for the last decade -- food shortages, drug shortages,
chronic unemployment, etc. -- and which annually spends a miserly
$185 per person on health care, has better infant and adult mortality
rates than the US, and has a life expectancy nearly equal to ours.
Why has our vaunted free enterprise system
-- which has produced such great benefits in delivery of most
goods and services -- failed so completely with regard to this
most fundamental need?
Simple, buyers don't shop for health care.
Sick people don't negotiate with doctors or hospitals or drug
companies. They don't care what it costs; insurance or the government
will pay. This vulnerability has been exploited and hijacked by
greedy doctors, drug companies, insurers, personal injury lawyers,
HMOs, and hospitals. About 50% of health care funds never even
get to doctors or hospitals -- which themselves run bloated operations.
Maybe we have finally reached the "Tipping
Point". Not because people are needlessly dying, but because
big business is being crippled by astronomical health costs.
US companies -- with employer funded health
plans -- are having a hard time competing in world markets. General
Motors spends more on worker health care ($1,400 per vehicle)
than they spend on steel for each car they produce. "The
three big auto makers are "HMOs on wheels" says Goldman
Sachs analyst Gary Lapidus.
Employer funded health insurance is a
relic of the past according to the growing clamor by big business.
We don't want to pay for it any more and the added costs make
our products uncompetitive in world markets.
The new Massachusetts law mandating health
insurance -- just as the state requires auto insurance -- is a
bold leap into an uncertain future, but it is an ad hoc band-aid
which hopefully will lead to something more.
The long-term answer is obvious. Adopt
a single-payer system like Canada's. Not socialized medicine.
Doctors would remain private. By cutting out the bureaucracy,
needless lawsuits, and curbing greed, the US could save 50% of
the monies now being squandered, more than enough to cover the
50 million uninsured, according to a General Accounting Office
and Congressional Budget Office report.
Ironically, we already have a successful
single-payer healthcare program. Medicare, which covers people
over 65, has an administrative and overhead cost of just 2%. Compare
this low figure with the $399 billion spent on administrative
middleman services in the free-market sector of health care last
year. The simple step of data sharing of medical records could
save $140 billion per year according too a recent Federal study.
Critics charge that a single-payer system
would lead to a rationing of medicine and long waits. But we already
ration medicine, not by need, or efficacy of the treatment, but
by how much money you have. If you are rich, you can have all
you want. If you are poor, unemployed, self-employed, sorry. 18,000
Americans die each year for lack of care according to the Institute
The right says that single-payer systems
have not been adequately tested. But this is an obvious pretext
by for-profit interest groups. Single-payer systems have been
worked for many decades in 20 countries around the world.
The facts are clear: single-payer systems
work and they save money. The Germans, French, Australians, Swiss,
and Canadians all benefit from universal healthcare at less than
half the cost that Americans pay for an incomplete system. Our
for-profit healthcare system is a gambling scheme with the explicit
goal of excluding the sick.
Good luck Massachusetts. Maybe your example,
big business, and growing outrage will goad the dithering federal
government into action.
Someday, inevitably, America will join
the civilized world and provide universal care. It should be sooner
rather than later.