When more is simply more

America's bloated per capita health expenditures are simply the cost of "free" enterprise

We Americans pay more dollars, and live shorter lives, than our counterparts in most other modern countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2008 America spent $7,538 per capita on health care, while the other 33 nations surveyed spent an average of $3,000.

The reason is clear: it’s how we pay for our health care. While most countries view health care access as a human right, here in the United States, we revere it as a profit center.

The idea that private industry can out-innovate, outperform and outcompete the government is very noble, except where that idea fails miserably as it has in health care. The opponents of reform admitted as much last year when they worked hard to kill the public option, correctly noting that private insurance companies could not compete on prices or services with the low-overhead and massive buying power of a true government health plan.

Those other countries all have single-payer systems which do just that: doctors and hospitals are still in private hands, but with the government as paymaster. Having all its citizens in one huge pool, instead of fragmented into the crazy patchwork quilt we have, keeps their costs well below ours while providing care for all their citizens – not just those who can pay for it. That’s not to claim any of those systems are perfect, but what we have is also imperfect at a much higher price.

Single-payer may be a sane way of delivering health care, but it’s not the American Way. When you hear the foes of reform claim that the bill Congress passed last year is “government-run” health care, it reminds me of that old saying, “Don’t eat that, Grandma!” In fact, Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact called that claim the lie of the year for 2010.

We’d say that the legislation passed last year – comprised largely of ideas Republicans promoted in the past – will, by design, keep America’s bloated private health care system thriving. In fact, the individual mandate will fill the coffers of private insurance companies as more customers flood the system.

In exchange for that, the Obama Administration forces those companies to end many of the abuses that were leaving citizens without any coverage. Insurance companies traditionally make money by denying health care rather than providing it. We’ve said it before in a slightly different way, but denying a woman breast cancer treatment is a funny way to make money. Anything that lessens that possibility is a good thing.

So we fervently hope the foes of reform quit their posturing and help make further improvements to what was passed last year rather than this nonsense of “repeal and replace.” The can has already been kicked down the free enterprise road, so they just need to keep kicking it along in a way that is productive and not obstructionist.

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