Saturday, November 24, 2007

As sick as it can get

I finally caught Sicko on DVD today. I have heard a lot of people complain about how broken american healthcare system is; its been a strong, emotional issue for the general public for more than two decades and right now after the war in Iraq ranks as the second most important issue in the public consciousness. However, it is all well and good to hear about how bad things are and it is quite another to actually see and hear the stories of the people who have experienced the dark side of the system in all its gory details. Those horror stories are eye-opening and make your heart bleed and as a citizen of a developing country make you wonder - how is this possible in the richest and most powerful country in the world? A country that can come up with hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a war it should not have raged in the first place but can't seem to have enough money to solve its healthcare problems. One statistic sums up the story, America is ranked 37th -yes, not 5th, 10th ,20th or even 30th, a lowly 37th- judged according to the quality of its health care system in the world. It is ranked the lowest in the developed world right beside Cuba at 39th. Costarica, Malta, Portugal, Chile are among the few countries ranked above the most developed nation in the world. A statistic such as this is mind boggling for a country like USA and it should be enough to convince all concerned that there is something very seriously wrong with the healthcare system over here.

How did this sad state of affairs come about? Can America not afford to provide Universal Health Care to all its citizens, most of the developed nations do, so why not America. The reason is that many americans love the idea of universal health care but there are many more that love the idea of low taxes. The Universal Health care systems all over the world have been financed by the higher tax rates in those countries, which means more government control, more government spending and a bigger pay cut for the average worker. Americans want to have their cake and eat it too, lower taxes but universal coverage which certainly does not seem plausible. The market based system in US does not seem to doing its job so is there a market failure in this case? Is it possible to put right incentive structures in place so that the market-based health care system would work as well or may be better than the universal health care for the majority of people or is the health care system is something akin to Police protection which can best be provided by only the government and nobody else. These are the questions, that the hidden economist inside me raises and on the answers a lot is at stake. I hope that somebody soon finds out these answers and put something in place so that sick Americans -and foreigners in America I may add- don't have to cross borders to Canada or worse commit crimes to get into Guantanamo Bay so that they could get decent affordable health care. On that note, Hillary Clinton's plan certainly looks promising.

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