Current Issues

Facing Facts

Posted on November 5, 2009

This post IS not an argument for one model of health care over another.  I of course have an opinion, but so does everyone else.  What I am writing about is the way our society can slip into the myopic “no one does it better than we do” delusion of American Exceptionalism.

Regarding health care, see Nicholas Kristoff in today’s NY Times.  Even if you object to his left-leaning brand of economics, the objective facts he presents are a counter to those who ask “Well, where would you rather be sick?  In the US or somewhere else?”  The assumption is, of course, that we have the world’s best health care.

We don’t.  By a long shot.  Consider where we rank:

  • 31st in life expectancy;
  • 37th in infant mortality;
  • 34th in maternal mortality;
  • US children are 2.5 times more likely to dies by age 5 than their peers in Sweden and Singapore;
  • We take 10% fewer pills, but pay 118% more per pill

It’s worse if you are Black, Latino, or poor.

China is racing ahead of us in green technologies.  Finland has made broadband Internet access a “basic human right” while people in northern NH are using dial up modems and taking 30 minutes to load a web page.  I recently stepped off a modern Asian airline where service was warm and welcoming and the plane immaculate onto an American Airlines flight in which grim-faced attendants grudgingly handed out packets of peanuts and duct tape (duct tape!) held together scuff marked luggage doors. 

Part of what gets in the way of our remaining a great country and society is our belief that we are already as good a country and society as we can be, better than everyone else actually.  In many ways, neither of those things is true.

A wise university president once told me that the job meant being an energetic cheerleader for his institution off campus and a hard-nosed critic on campus.  I don’t know the right answer to our complicated health care crisis (actually, I think I do know, but no is asking me), but I know we will get nowhere if we don’t start witha clear-eyed understanding of the current failings.

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