Monday, May 21, 2007

Nicholas Kristof: America's Health Care Mess

A Short American Life

Published: May 21, 2007

How’s this for a glimpse into America’s health care mess:

The student winner I’ve chosen to accompany me on a reporting trip to Africa next month is a superb medical school student named Leana Wen. She receives her M.D. this month, and will research health care access this summer at a Washington think tank.

I asked Leana about her health insurance coverage, just in case she catches leprosy on the Africa trip.

“Actually, I was going to become one of the 45 million uninsured for the summer,” she said. “The think tank does not provide insurance for ‘temporary’ employees, and my school did not allow extension of health insurance post-graduation. I still haven’t found a reasonably priced insurance plan for this period.”

Aaaaargh! When a newly minted doctor investigating Americans’ access to medical care has no insurance — then you know that our health care system is truly bankrupt.


Over all, a person without insurance is less likely to have diseases diagnosed early, less likely to get routine preventive care — and faces a 25 percent greater chance of dying early.


The existing medical financing system also creates perverse incentives for expensive procedures; that may be why Americans are far more likely than Europeans to get C-sections. Meanwhile, the burden of paying for these second-rate statistical outcomes is crippling American business. By next year, the average Fortune 500 company will spend more on health care than it earns in net income, according to Steve Burd, the head of Safeway. Mr. Burd and other executives have formed the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform, creating a corporate constituency for national health reforms.

There’s evidence that the most efficient financing system would be a single-payer structure, such as that found in most Western countries. Some 31 percent of U.S. health spending goes to administration, more than twice the rate in Canada.

So bravo to Physicians for a National Health Program, a group of 14,000 doctors and other health professionals that favors a single-payer system.

To read the full editorial, click on the link at the top of this post.

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