The Healthcare Shell Game

The most dangerous, ill-informed and frankly silliest political debate in this country is over healthcare. I go from annoyed to worried about the way our policy debates play out, but the whole health tango just plain maddens me. By and large, political debate uses the same tactic Microsoft employed against their competitors: FUD.




Our conversations about healthcare are not exempt from this idiocy. In fact, since it’s an expensive question that touches on our biggest fear – death – bringing up the subject leads to all kinds of rhetorical shenanigans. This has led to tragic and horrible delays in fixing a health system gone awry.

Bring up healthcare reform and someone’s bound to shout “socialized medicine!” It’s an empty bit of fear mongering that also happens to be meaningless. The term “socialized” is tossed in because it makes people think of communism which makes people think of nuclear holocaust. But it’s a specious argument. Does anyone level the same complaint at our socialized police force? No, because we have no issue paying tax dollars to keep us safe from crime. Use my tax dollars to keep us safe from disease, though? Hell no.

The argument then proceeds to poorly researched insinuations about Britain or Canada’s “mismanaged” health systems. These usually involve mentioning wait times or supposedly poorer quality care. Like any good FUD, these insinuations are not entirely false. But like any good FUD, they’re far closer to wrong then they are to correct.

Canada and the UK are not the only countries with government administrated healthcare, yet they are invariably the only ones brought up in any debate I’ve ever had on the subject. Thus the individual failings of these two systems are not evidence against a significant shift in our own policy. Nor do vague threats of wait times hold water against the millions of people in our own country who don’t see a doctor at all because of a lack of medical insurance. Yet we’ve backed down every time medical insurance companies and their political allies show up because it makes us just scared enough.

I’m not going to get into the minutia of this debate. I’m going to bring up one thing and one thing only, because I think it encapsulates everything we need to know. The United States is 38 on the ranking of countries by average life expectancy. Now, there are significant factors at play here, like our obesity problem and the kinds of junk we put into our food, but still. 38.

Now, let’s move up the list to the top 10. With the exception of Macau, which I know nothing about, every single one of those top 10 countries have some form of government administrated health care system. Not all of them are completely free to the public, but all of them ensure their citizens can get the coverage they need. The United Kingdom, with their broken healthcare system? They’re 22 on the list, and they have nearly as bad an obesity problem as we do. (They’re third on that list. We’re first, though we’re first by about 10% of our population). And Canada? Yeah, they didn’t make the top 10. They were 11.

What does that mean in years? People in the U.K. have a life expectancy of 79.4 years. In Canada it’s 80.7 years. The U.S.? 78.2. Canada’s people are waiting longer, after all. They get to wait an average of 2.5 years longer to pass away.

There’s an honest debate to be had about what our healthcare system should look like. Let’s have it, and let’s throw away the FUD shell game the socialized medicine hysteria is forcing on us. And let’s remember that even if the U.K. and Canada have flaws in their healthcare system, it’s still universal and people are living longer. The two are probably connected.

Life Expectancy Map

This entry was posted in Voting. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *