Swans Commentary » swans.com October 23, 2006  



US Health Care In Crisis


by Seth Sandronsky





(Swans - October 23, 2006)  The cost of US health care has climbed 43 percent over the past nine years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This price jump is close to double the overall rate of inflation (price increases) of 26 percent in the same nine years. David Leonhardt, in The New York Times of September 27, wrote that the skyrocketing prices for the US health care system "are slowly creating a crisis."

However, he continued, we fool ourselves if we think that American health care is over priced. In fact, the nation's health care is priced right for what the American people get. We are living longer and as a result are paying more for health care that includes "defibrillators, chemotherapy, cholesterol drugs, neonatal care and other treatments that are both expensive and effective."

I have a question for Leonhardt. If US health care is such a great deal for what it provides the people of the world's best democracy, please explain how is it that a nation such as Canada spends less per person for health care, while Canadians have longer life expectancies than Americans?

Total health expenditure per person for 2004 was $6,102 in the U.S. versus $3,165 in Canada, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As of two years ago, Americans were paying 45 percent more than what Canadians pay for health care.

Spending on health care per person in the U.S. was $1,776 versus $1,264 in Canada in 1985. Health care spending was $2,752 for the U.S. and $1,737 for Canada in 1990. By 1995, US health care spending per person was $3,670 compared with $2,055 in Canada. US health care spending per person reached $4,588 as Canadian spending was $2,503 per person in 2000. Canada's per person health care costs went from 71 percent of US levels in 1985 to 55 percent in 2004.

Meanwhile, Canadians can expect to live longer than Americans. Life expectancy was 79.3 years for Canadians versus 76.8 years for Americans in 2000, according to the OECD. Canadians could expect to live 75.3 years compared with Americans' 73.7 years in 1980. Canadians' life expectancy was 77.6 years in 1990 versus life expectancy of 75.3 years in the U.S.

As US per-person health care spending rose relative to Canada's expenditures, Canadians' life expectancies increased more than Americans'. How can that be? The OECD does not provide that answer. What we do know is that Canada provides its citizens with universal health care. The U.S. does not.

Leonhardt does not consider universal health care. Thus his column echoed conventional thinking on US health care. Consider this:

The day after Sacramento County workers walked out, in no small part due to management pushing them to pay more for health care, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed state Senator Sheila Kuehl's (D-Santa Monica) Senate Bill 840 to provide all Californians with high-quality, comprehensive health care.

"SB 840 relies on the failed old paradigm of using one source -- this time the government -- to solve the complex problem of providing medical care for our people," the governor said in a press statement.

Without a mention of this vetoed universal health care bill, an unsigned Sacramento Bee editorial of September 7 urged county workers to get used to health care costs, rising for "everyone." It is worth noting that Kuehl's bill would have done away with a main force driving up the costs of medical care -- private health insurance. These same insurers such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield are also a source of ad revenue for media such as The Bee and campaign cash for the political system.


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Internal Resources

America the 'beautiful'

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action, California, and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper.



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Published October 23, 2006