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The 'best' health care depends on your perspective
by Samuel Metz
Is the American health care system "the best in the world"? If so, perhaps Oregon is spinning its wheels trying to fix a health care system some U.S. congressmen say isn't broken. Let's hear what these national leaders say and then check reality.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, "We do start with the notion, however, that we have the best health care in the world." If McConnell had diabetes, he might pause. American diabetics suffer twice as many foot amputations as diabetics in Europe because they cannot afford care to prevent foot infections from turning deadly.
House Speaker John Boehner says we have "the best health care delivery system in the world." But there are 35 other countries in which a pregnant woman and her baby have a better chance of surviving the pregnancy. The United States leads the industrialized world in deaths preventable with timely care. There are 15 other nations providing every citizen with lifesaving treatments denied to many unfortunate Americans.
During one of his presidential debates, Sen. John McCain said the U.S. offers "the highest quality of health care in the world." Did he overlook statistics on lung disease? Americans with emphysema are 25 percent more likely to need hospitalization than people in France (the country with the best record). Asthmatics suffer worse: American asthmatics are eight times more likely to need urgent care than those in France.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell insisted, in a GOP response to President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address, that the U.S. enjoys "the best medical care system in the world." But 25 other countries have more doctors per capita, hospital beds per capita and doctor visits. And these countries spend less than we do. In fact, we have the most expensive health care in the world.
If simply spending more money qualified as "the best," then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., could be forgiven for imagining we have "the best health care system in the world." Yet that money comes from somewhere, and it's coming from suffering families. A patient diagnosed with lung cancer in this country carries a 7 percent chance of bankruptcy within five years. Most family bankruptcies are precipitated by medical crises, and most of those families had insurance when the crisis began.
Is this what "the best" looks like?
Whatever world these leaders live in, it is not the one that Oregonians (or most other Americans) inhabit. Every other industrialized country provides better care to more people for less money. We cannot do better if our leaders insist the world should learn from us, not us from them.
Oregon draws national praise for its creative responses to health care challenges -- not just our coordinated care organizations and Health Care Transformation Act, but also longer-term efforts to create statewide universal care. Should we give up our efforts at reform and simply enjoy what we have?
Listen to the words of these leaders and then look at the faces of your family. Whom do you believe?
© 2012 OregonLive.com
Samuel Metz is a Portland anesthesiologist in Portland, Or. He represents the Portland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, Health Care for All Oregon, and he is a founding member of Mad As Hell Doctors (http://madashelldoctors.com/). All three organizations advocate for publicly funded universal care in Oregon.