Holding President Obama to Campaign Pledges to Expand, Improve Nation’s Healthcare

President Obama’s health care reforms are expected to be delayed following Tom Daschle’s exit last week from the nomination process for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Daschle was being groomed to simultaneously fulfill the positions of Secretary over the Dept. of HHS as well as head of the newly created White House Office of Health Reform.

Daschle, a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader (D – South Dakota), was viewed by many within Washington as one with sufficient legislative experience and health care expertise to tackle the new President’s health care reform agenda before Daschle withdrew from consideration for the posts, February 3, after controversy surrounding his improper filing of taxes.

Apparently the new administration had banked on Daschle’s smooth transition into the two positions before the tax scandal became manifest and are now, at least temporarily, unprepared to find a suitable replacement.

Assembling a new team of individuals to spearhead the President’s proposed health care reforms, practically speaking, will take a little time. In the meantime, those approximately 45 million Americans without current access to health care can steadily apply attention and pressure to the subject of our grossly incomplete healthcare system and the need to reform it.

Access to proper medical attention in times of physical distress should be a right for all, not a privilege. With our vast national wealth and resources we as a society have the means to care for the health and well being of all our citizens.

Within the collective psyche of American society it is commonly believed that we enjoy “the greatest healthcare system in the world,” as the claim goes. This is simply false.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in 2000, compiled the most comprehensive country-by-country comparison of each nation’s health care system and subsequently ranked them from best to worst. Among 191 of the most developed countries around the globe, the United States is ranked 37 positions from the top of the list, just Behind the Country of Costa Rica and just above the nation of Slovenia. It might be of interest to note that France holds the top position.

The 2000 study by the WHO compares a host of various criteria such as infant mortality rate, life expectancy, affordability of, and access to, various medical services, etc.

In addition, the report reveals that although 36 countries with better all around health care systems exceed the U.S., we currently expend a higher percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for health care than any other nation ranked, illustrating the fact that we are highly inefficient.

In essence, dozens of countries around the globe are currently medically covering larger portions of their society than we are here in the U.S., for less money than we spend to insure a smaller portion of our society. This seems counterintuitive.

How can we have 45 million Americans without basic health care coverage, a less than competitive health care system for those other 250-plus million Americans that do have coverage in this country, and all the while be paying more for our grossly incomplete, second-rate health coverage than any other country with first-rate, Universal health coverage?

Research has shown that it can be cheaper to collectively cover all Americans than it is to cover only some of us, because uninsured Americans are forced to wait to address medical ailments until they reach a stage of crisis management. It is much more expensive to foot the bill for people rushed to the Emergency Room for emergency procedures than it is to pay for periodic and preventative check-ups. It is far more costly to treat cancer, various communicable diseases, and conditions such as diabetes when they have progressed to advanced stages, not diagnosed or treated until the last possible moment because uninsured individuals prolonged seeking medical attention.

The difference for the bottom line of our GDP between paying for preventative procedures and emergency procedures becomes exponential. As New York Times journalist Ian Urbina pointed out in the
Times article, “In the Treatment of Diabetes, Success Often Does Not Pay:” It costs roughly “$150 for a diabetic to see a podiatrist, who can help prevent foot ailments associated with the disease.” Amputations, however, “typically cost more than $30,000.”

As President Obama assembles his team of individuals to reform America’s health care system he will inevitably meet partisan opposition in the pursuit of those necessary reforms. However, leaving 45 million Americans uninsured and paying more money to do so is financially and ethically indefensible. The majority of Americans that elected the new President on the campaign promise of a reformed, inclusive and efficient health care system should look now for accountability and a fulfillment of those promises.

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