Saturday, January 12, 2013

U.S. Health Is Poorest Of Developed Nations

(Image was found in the 1/05/09 edition of the SD Times Blog.)

The United States is the richest nation in the world. In addition, it spends more on health care than any other nation, but in the total amount spent and the per capita spending. Knowing that, it would seem to make sense that the United States would also be the healthiest country. Unfortunately that is not even close to being true.

Data from 2011 showed that there were at least 27 countries that had a longer life expectancy for their citizens than the United States -- and the situation is not improving. In fact, it's getting worse since the life expectancy in other developed nations is increasing at a faster rate than life expectancy in the United States (where life expectancy is increasing for high-wage workers, but has been stagnant for years for low-wage workers).

Why is this? The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine decided to find out why. They picked a panel of experts to study reports from this country and sixteen other developed nations (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). What they found was very troubling.

First, the good news. The U.S. has higher cancer survival rates, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a smaller rate of smoking. In addition, while it is less likely an American will live to be 75, those who do will likely live longer than those in other countries. Those are good things, but the list of bad things about the health of Americans is a frighteningly long one.

There are nine areas where the United States lags far behind other rich nations:
* the infant mortality rate is higher
* the homicide rate is higher
* the teen pregnancy rate is higher
* the rate of drug-related deaths is higher
* the rate of obesity is higher
* the rate of disabilities is higher
* the prevalence of AIDS is higher
* seniors have a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease
* children in U.S. are less likely to reach their 5th birthday

The panel of experts found that the reasons for the United States lagging behind in health issues falls into three broad categories. The first of these is personal behavior. Americans eat too much, use drugs too much, don't use their auto seat belts enough, and commit violence against each other too often (with guns being easily available, even to children). We also fail to teach safe sex too much, and make it harder to access contraceptives than in other countries (where condoms are easily accessible and other contraceptives are sold over the counter without the need for a prescription).

The second reason is the lack of a comprehensive and easily accessible social safety net. America has the highest rate of poverty (with over one-fifth of all U.S. children living in poverty) and the largest number of people who fall through the cracks of our inadequate social safety net.

The third reason is that we have an archaic and inadequate health care system. Some rural areas have no medical care available, and millions of U.S. citizens have no health insurance. That means they have no access to health care -- especially preventative health care. And our public health system is underfunded -- by a large amount.

The sad part of this whole mess is that none of these problems are unsolvable. We could do a better job of teaching healthy habits in our schools (both physical and sexual health). We could change our drug policies, and treat drug use like the health problem that it is rather than as a criminal problem. We could limit the availability of guns for children, criminals, abusers, and dangerous mentally ill people.

We could also create a comprehensive social safety net that would prevent people from falling through the cracks. But this would take a political will that we don't seem to have. In fact, instead of fixing our social safety net, our politicians are now discussing cutting funds for it and further disabling it. We seem to have plenty of money to give benefits to rich people and corporations, but none to help the poor and needy.

We could also fix our broken medical care system. Obamacare care did some to help this, but not nearly enough. We need to go to a single-payer government run health system that would include all citizens (like Medicare). All of the other developed nations have done that, and that is why they spend less money per capita for health care, and get better results. But that would also take some political will -- a will that most politicians (in both parties) simply do not possess.

We are the richest nation in the world, and we should be the healthiest. We should be ashamed that we have the poorest health outcomes in the developed world. We have let our greed and rampant stupidity override our empathy and common sense. Too many in this country just don't care about their fellow Americans, and until we first fix that, we will continue to have the unhealthiest citizens of all of the developed nations.

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