Health Care in the United States

The United States in one of the richest, most populous and most powerful countries in the world and plays a central leadership role in the world. On the world stage, the U.S. often challenges other countries about their records regarding human rights. Yet the United States is failing its own citizens by not granting every citizen access to basic health care.

Many citizens in the United States needlessly suffer and die each day due to the inequities of the health care system in the U.S. This is a horrible national catastrophe! The United States needs to provide universal health care to all of its citizens and legal residents. While the issue is very complex and touches many people and institutions, it is a problem that can and must be solved.

The United States has one of the worst health care systems in the world and is the only developed democracy without a universal health care system. France has a universal health care system that is funded by taxes from income, from pharmaceutical companies, and health harming products such as tobacco.

There is a co-payment for certain services, but every citizen is entitled to health care. France spent 10% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care in 2000. Denmark, interestingly enough, has a universal health care system that is free to all citizens. It is government funded, 82.2% by taxes. Citizens are required to pay for procedures such as cosmetic surgery if it is not for a health purpose. Denmark spent 8.4% of GDP on health care in 2000. Australia also has a universal health care system that spent about 8.5% of GDP on health care in 2000 (Health care systems).

The United States government spent 15.3% of their GDP on health care in 2003. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organization of developed countries around the world, 15.3% is more than any other country spends. The average is 8.2%.

The United States also spent $6,500 per capita on health care, which again is more then any other country in the OECD. In comparison, the average for spending per capita is about $4,940 in 2003. The shocking and poignant truth is that the U.S. spends more than any other country for health care and twice as much as the OCED average and yet many people are uninsured and do not have access to even basic health care services (Public Agenda).

This indicates staggering inefficiency. In countries in the OECD, government revenues cover 72% of health care spending. In the majority of the countries that were listed above, Australia, Denmark, and France, the main funding comes from taxes paid to the government. In comparison, the United States government only finances 44% of the health care program.

The government and employers are the primary sources of health care funding in the United States. In Denmark the government pays for 100% of health insurance; it is considered free as long as you are a citizen even without being employed. Some countries have a Medicaid system that covers the poor; Australia, within the last five years, has developed a Medicare system that will cover all the uninsured and is government financed. In other countries, employers account for at most 30% of health care funding, if even any funding at all (Health care systems).

Because the United States spends the most on a health care system, one would think that most people in the U.S. would be healthy. This is not the case. Surprisingly, the United States does not have a particularly high life expectancy rate. Switzerland, Japan, Iceland, Spain and Australia are the OECD countries with the highest life expectancy rates. From the years 1960 to 2002, the U.S. life expectancy has increased about 7 to 8 years while Japan’s has increased about 14 years. The average life span for OECD countries is 77.8 years while for the U.S. it is 77.2 years.

Another significant health factor in the United States is the obesity rate, which is the highest in OCED countries; about one-third of the population is considered obese. For a country that spends 2 trillion dollars on health care, these numbers are hardly impressive. A universal health care system would benefit the United States by positively impacting all of these statistics and eventually bringing the U.S. into better health compared to the rest of the world (United Health Foundation).

There are many people in the United States who are not covered by health insurance. In 2002, 31.4% of the people ages 18 to 24 were uninsured and 11.2% of the people who were under 18 were uninsured. Also in 2002, 44.2% of the families living in poverty had children who did not have health insurance. When families are in poverty without health insurance, they end up being charged the full amount for medical care.

They are further stuck in poverty, having to pay for the hospital bills, any prescription drugs, and any follow up appointments. This is a vicious cycle that inadvertently keeps people without health insurance in poverty. When people are sick and cannot afford to visit the hospital, they then could miss work, get fired, or not be able to search for a job. Universal health care would eliminate this destructive cycle by providing basic health care for all without regard to income level (Public Agenda).

Another chief concern about the current health care system is that the Medicare and Medicaid programs will run out of money. The Medicaid program is a government health insurance program for poor and disabled; there are strict income and financial resource guidelines for a person to qualify for Medicaid support and these are developed and enforced by each state. Medicare is a health insurance program for the elderly.

The Medicare and Medicaid systems are funded in part by the annual federal budget. There has been much written in the press during the last few years about the high cost of the federal entitlement programs which include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. As the demographics of the population in the U.S. changes, with a large population of retirees, some say these programs are in danger of causing a major financial crisis.

Basically the U.S. is having a hard time financing the people who use these three programs because the number of people who are getting older and qualify is becoming a larger percent of population. Right now there is money that is being contributed to these programs from taxes, but in the current economy in the next couple of years there will be more people using these three programs then there will be financing them. This is the primary concern of those who oppose a universal health care initiative.

They believe that the U.S. does not have the money to pay for universal health care when the existing programs are in danger of bankruptcy at some point in the future. This concern needs to be effectively addressed for a national health care plan to be successful The solution must be viable in the long term and not just a quick fix that will create a crisis for future generations(Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

The citizens of the United States are concerned about the availability of affordable health care. In 2002 in a national survey, 79% of the people said that increasing the number of Americans covered by health insurance is “very” important and 60% of Americans say that they worry a great deal about the availability of health care.

By now this number would have increased because the health care situation has only gotten worse. In a New York Times poll in March 2007, almost two-thirds of the population says that the government should guarantee health insurance to everyone and that they would be willing to pay more taxes for it.

There is a general national consensus that says that something has to be done. Even in the government, health care has recently become a major priority. The top health care priority for Congress and the president in 2007 is expanding coverage for the uninsured. 73% of the Democrats say they would like to see some sort of health care coverage for nearly everyone even if it will cost more. We, the people, need to continue to make our voices heard (The Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health).

To create a universal health care system a couple of steps must be taken. First, it should be mandated that all people be required to have health insurance. This would be similar to auto insurance or even similar to France’s current health care system. People cannot opt out of it, and all who can afford, will pay taxes. Therefore, everyone will be covered. However just like auto insurance has a deductible, so will health insurance. It will only cover situations that could cause a permanent financial burden on someone such as heart surgery or cancer treatments, but not the everyday physician visit. Secondly, health care insurance would need to be provided by employers.

All companies who have any number of employees would be required to provide a basic health insurance. The government would subsidize companies with a small number of employees or small revenue. Employees would have the option to contribute out-of-pocket to obtain a higher level of coverage as is possible with many companies today.

The state and federal government together would provide health care for the unemployed and would provide safety net coverage for people who are between jobs. This universal health insurance would be basic and cover serious illnesses and hospital stays but not every minor doctor visit; those would be the responsibility of the individual person. One key role of the federal government would be to work with the major health care providers to keep the costs as low as possible.

The insurance companies today already provide a blueprint for how to control costs. This proposed universal health care plan would also contain incentives for people to work and for people to stay healthy. Some of the incentives would be both in the convenience of care or in the personal choices people are allowed. The “stay healthy” incentives would also be in the form of tax breaks for the healthy, nonsmoker and non-obese. The system would be paid for from money recovered from fixing the inefficiencies of the system, tax increases with some out-of-pocket payments required from everyone.

The initiative will need to come from the U.S. Congress and the members of the U.S. Congress will need to convene a taskforce that includes all the major stakeholders: the insurance companies, the hospitals, health care professionals, politicians. This will actually be similar to the group that was assembled to overhaul the health care system in 1993 during President Clinton’s first term; this attempt was unsuccessful. Along with Congress the people of the U.S. will have to realize that paying new taxes are bound to happen.

This is because taxpayers will now have to insure the uninsured; some of the taxes that citizens pay now go to people who cannot afford health care through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. By creating a universal health care system the whole Medicaid and Medicare programs will disappear because the need will be met by the new universal health care system. Taxes should be increased on items such as cigarettes and alcohol; to promote health awareness.

Another element to a successful universal health care is having corporations and insurance companies’ partner up to improve the inefficiencies in the current health care system. One way is to provide a pay-for-performance, which means doctors and hospitals get paid based on how efficient their health care services are.. (Milwaukee)

The United States spends the most money out of any other country in the world on health care. They also lack the results. A universal health care system would benefit the U.S. The majority of people even in Congress feel that something must be done about the health care system and I think this is the way to do it. Although the U.S. would have to overcome some obstacles, mainly the Medicaid and Medicare situation, a universal health care system would provide health care to everyone in an affordable, reasonable manner, and eventually lead to a healthier, happier country.

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