Moral Low Ground

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Global Health Leaders Perplexed by America’s Rejection of ‘Socialized Medicine’

(Fibonacci Blue/Flick Creative Commons)

(Fibonacci Blue/Flick Creative Commons)

Why is the United States the only most-developed nation lacking some form of government-funded universal health care system?

Why are so many Americans, even those who support or rely upon government programs like Medicare, so vehemently opposed to ‘socialized medicine?’

Why do so many people in this nation continue to believe ours is the best health care system in the world, even when presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary?

To help answer these questions, Moral Low Ground interviewed more than a dozen leading health officials from around the world and asked them to compare health care attitudes in their countries and in the United States.

“It comes down to a difference in culture and character,” said Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and a fellow at the Royal College of Physicians in London. “In America, you’ve got this sense of individualism and Darwinian survival and opportunity to win. In the UK, we have this very strong sense that we have to provide for the weaker in our society.”

Dr. Stephen Leeder, editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) and professor of public health and community medicine at the University of Sydney, also said people in other countries apparently value fairness and equity more than in the United States.

“In the pursuit of excellence, people lost along the way do not count for much, and if you can buy excellent health care… if you can afford it, you get it. If you can’t, you don’t. You guys simply do not believe in equity,” Leeder said of Americans.

The countries shaded in green all have some form of universal health care system. Only one most-developed nation on earth does not have universal health care-- the United States. (Wikimedia)

The countries shaded in green all have some form of universal health care system. Only one most-developed nation on earth does not have universal health care– the United States. (Wikimedia)

The notion of health care as a human right, so often scoffed at in the United States, is central to most nations’ health policies and practices.

“Health care is absolutely a basic human right,” asserted Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) President Linda Silas.

Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie, a Conservative, says he is “wary of the philosophical implications” of the term ‘basic human rights.’

“But personally, I completely agree with the statement that health care should be a right in all societies,” Høie insisted. “All societies should strive to ensure that their people have access to quality care.”

“The aim must be to provide health care to everybody irrespective of his or her ability to pay for it,” said World Medical Association (WMA) Secretary General Dr. Otmar Kloiber, who points to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights— which was signed by the United States– and the US Declaration of Independence as documents that “enshrine and express common values of mankind.”

In addition to being a basic human right, many of those interviewed for this article asserted that their public health care systems are an integral part of their national identities.

“It’s ingrained in us like maple syrup or hockey,” said Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). “It’s part of being Canadian. It’s in our DNA.”

Swedish Health Minister Göran Hägglund, who is also leader of the center-right Christian Democrat party, said that people have a “moral obligation to look after each other,” and to that end, “Swedes consider our various welfare systems to be a part of our national identity.”

So what do international health officials make of all the horror stories disseminated by US special interests about the lack of patient choice, ‘rationed care,’ ‘death panels’ and long waiting lists, stories apparently meant to scare an American populace that ranks 51st in global life expectancy away from public health care?

“Any patient can at any time switch physicians. There are no ‘death panels,'” insisted CMA president Francescutti. “Do we have slightly longer waits than Americans? Yes we do. But when you take a look at the indicators, we’re faring better than you in just about every category, and you’re spending twice as much money.”

Comparing universal health care to Nazism or communism is a common tactic employed by right-wing US politicians and pundits.

Comparing universal health care to Nazism or communism is a common tactic employed by right-wing US politicians and pundits.

“What people should do at the end of the day is not exaggerate,” added Dr. Francescutti. “Nobody gets turned away here. Nobody goes bankrupt if they have a heart attack. God forbid you have a heart attack in the United States and you don’t have coverage.”

Indeed, unpaid medical bills are the number one cause of US bankruptcies, with nearly two million Americans affected in 2013.

International public opinion polls show people are very satisfied with government-funded health care systems. According to a recent comparative study of public attitudes toward health systems in 11 nations, 61 percent of Britons believe their health care system “works pretty well and only minor changes are needed.” In America, only 29 percent answered similarly, but 25 percent of Americans said the US health system is “in need of complete rebuilding.”

Fully 85 percent of Canadians surveyed by McGill University in 2007 said that eliminating the nation’s public health system would “result in a fundamental change to the nature of Canada.” In a 2004 CBC television special, Canadians voted Tommy Douglas, a provincial leader best known as the ‘Father of Medicare,’ as the “Greatest Canadian” of all time.

“We’re so lucky with what we have,” said CFNU president Silas. “We don’t want to lose it.”

“I can’t imagine life without the NHS (National Health Service),” said BMJ editor Godlee. “[In Britain], we can’t remember a time when you’d live in fear you’d get ill, or someone in your family would get ill, and you’d have to pay for that out of your pocket. That’s something we never experience.”

“In an almost religious kind of way, people remain terrifically wedded to the idea of the NHS,” added Godlee. “The people have made this absolutely clear to any politicians who dare say we don’t need the NHS. [The NHS] is a bit like God in America, it’s like our version of Christianity.”

Still, convincing an American public that largely believes in ‘market-based solutions’ for everything and the notion that government cannot effectively solve a problem as big as health care reform of the merits of even more government is a tall order indeed.

Dr. Ida Hellander, director of policy and programs at the US advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) argues that insurance and pharmaceutical corporations and other special interest groups are largely responsible for Americans’ aversion to publicly-funded health care.

(Center for Responsive Politics)

(Center for Responsive Politics)

“Insurance and drug corporations spend about $300 million a year on lobbying Washington alone, and have more lobbyists than there are members of Congress, and can influence elections at every level,” said Hellander. “There have been very well-funded campaigns to make people believe that publicly-funded health care equals ‘socialized medicine…’ People don’t come up with these things on their own. A lot of money went into making people think these things.”

“You have to really examine who’s making the most noise against ‘socialized medicine’ in the United States,” Canada’s Silas said of public health care. “It’s almost 100 percent those who are better off in society.”

Dr. Hellander lists a long history, beginning in World War I, of powerful special interests tarring public health care as ‘un-American.’

“Later on with communism, it was drilled into people during the Cold War, and the American Medical Association (which maintains its longtime ‘unwavering opposition against the encroachment of government in medicine’) ran the largest political campaign in its history against the passage of Medicare, calling it ‘socialism,'” she said. That propaganda blitz featured an affable Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan, who would, as president, sign landmark legislation requiring hospitals to treat all patients, including undocumented immigrants, in need of emergency care, regardless of their ability to pay.

While many Americans may be surprised to learn that a conservative icon like Reagan would endorse what seems suspiciously like ‘socialized medicine,’ numerous most-developed nations have successfully combined public and private health care systems.

“New Zealand has a long tradition of public funding of health care as being the most equitable and efficient way to deliver what the population expects,” explained Jannel Carter, spokeswoman for New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall, a member of the center-right National Party. “Within that, there is still a place for privately-funded and provided health care and the two sectors work successfully together.”

“Australians can choose private care if they can afford it and if they wish, or if not able to pay can use Medicare, both in offices and in hospitals to cover much, if not all, of their costs,” said MJA editor Leeder.

Norwegian Health Minister Høie warned that “unchecked and unregulated markets in health care can drive up costs tremendously and won’t ensure access to care for all groups in society.” But the Conservative added that in Norway, “the private sector has an important role in limiting monopolies, ensuring healthy competition and increasing patient choice.”

“Giving people freedom of choice, allowing private sector innovation and using market-inspired reforms is fully possible within a publicly-funded health care sector,” insisted Høie. “What we try to do is find the mix that gives the optimal result: limiting costs, while ensuring quality care– for all.”

According to a 2009 Harvard Medical School study, 45,000 annual US deaths are linked to lack of health coverage. And with more than 47 million Americans, or one in six of us, still lacking health insurance, the need for change that goes beyond the welcome but inadequate reforms of ‘Obamacare’ is greater than ever, according to many of the international health professionals interviewed here.

US doctors also acknowledge something must be done. According to a 2012 Commonwealth Fund survey of primary care physicians in 10 nations, only 15 percent of American doctors said their country’s system “works well.” Fully 61 percent of Norwegian physicians answered similarly.

Part of the solution, argues Dr. Francescutti, is overcoming irrational fear of government-funded health care.

“Americans are worried about socialized medicine. What do you think Social Security and Medicare are,” asked the CMA president. “I always find it so funny when Americans say, ‘we don’t want socialized medicine,’ but as soon as they turn 65, they’re asking, ‘Where’s my Medicare?'”

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8 Comments

  1. wildFebruary 11, 2014 at 7:43 amReply

    “Part of the solution, argues Dr. Francescutti, is overcoming irrational fear of government-funded health care.”

    Irrational, Irrational…rofl, the fear of government-funded health care has be rationalized, quite well I think for many years, simply put: there is no reason to trust the U.S. government to faithfully execute anything. I could point out vast examples of the U.S. democratic governance based on the fact that EVERY U.S. Congressional Member is nothing more than a middle man/woman whore for hire. Ridiculous examples of this character abound daily and is widely known. Cloaked in secrecy, pomp, & circumstance lies are uttered and the drama contends, overcoming the irrational fear of this circus of liars… demands insanity from those that support it. The $300M that Dr. Hellander (PNHP) refers to with a graph, is testament enough who shall receive 2009’s gift. Now that we have been granted the ACA is it irrational to expect that graph to increase in value?

    These so called Representatives, ya even the lot, Senators have been, and continue to be, the same untrustworthy cronies that value their own egos slightly more than the jolt of a plump gift. Irrational, Irrational…rofl, even the so called do-gooders of this membership rationalize their acceptance of plump gifts as a routine element of purchasing their job in the first place, and ‘the system’ strictly requires further acceptance henceforth. The word ‘vanity’ has been thrown out of their language, and the word ‘responsibility’ has become redefined reflected in only their revised Congressional Dictionary.

    It is a game, a football game played hard and mean, these so called leaders of the United States of Pet Owners intentionally mislead, their ineptitude is hardly exciting as they literally charge toward the goal of continued cutthroat-ism. Hummmph to scoff in disgust…is about overcoming irrational fear of government-funded health care, it is also about waiting for ‘the other shoe to fall’, what shall be next in this joke of a game? Only half of the states have rejected the ACA health insurance scheme, and the other half have dipped their toe in the waters just to ponder the ripples of it. The repercussions are as plain as day, pull that rug slowly from under the pet owner’s feet, your latest farm bill will cut the SNAP (food stamps) program over the next 10 years…easily 50%, that in addition to the recent removal of 10% from the same account, I think they called that recent cut: ‘stimulus reduction’ or some such excuse, these cuts are nothing more than obvious consequence to further & intentionally play the ACA game with a flood of ever changing rules, lies, and pet owner’s monthly premiums.

    Ah well I’ve probably said too much hahahaha

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 11, 2014 at 8:50 amReplyAuthor

      I guess helping to win two world wars, sending a man to the moon and creating the Internet don’t count for much with you?

  2. wildFebruary 12, 2014 at 7:21 amReply

    Aye, I was speaking of the ACA/national health care primarily, but you are correct about The World Wars 1 & 2, The USA was involved in & victorious in both, the 1st lunar landing I can remember watching that spectacle on TV, and we all know Al Gore invented the internet. LOL 3 goodly examples of the prior generations it would seem, of which those generations should and have judged themselves in the history books, but all is not well with this generation…the baby boomers, and even generation X. The 4th example of The Internet, while recent, has been intentionally steered into the ditch, a communication device writhe with government & subcontracted eaves dropping, mandated cookie fixing, and of course a toll booth on every corner with it’s commercialized degradation. I’ll sarcastically comment that space trash was also invented and furthered by the United States of Pet Owners, and the decisions to rocket uranium and other HM materials into what was once a pristine environment of outer space, you haven’t seen a single suggestion from any governmental leader to even attempt to clean that waste up. What of their somewhat recent wars and outer-space exploration, shall we simply smile and forget that which faces us daily? It is plain as day that The Corruption has whipped this nation/generation into accepting the most wasteful and caustic policies by the failed leadership that created this circus for hire, to pretend it is democracy, or fair, or good is not true. These cronies are nothing but bribed minions with their votes cast in the direction of the highest bidder, no longer is this democracy, presently it is nothing short of fascism.

    Now we return to the introduction of the article: “Why is the United States the only most-developed nation lacking some form of government-funded universal health care system?” Intentional fraud and the fostering of it has been the normal direction in modern times, and this includes the legal structure that the Medical/Pharmaceutical/Insurance/Charitable industries have paid, and continue to pay to direct any lawmaker that their ‘well intentioned’ money can buy. The examples abound, shall I mention the world famous AIG, insurance entity…for all the good they do, their direction & the legalized fraud, literally crushed the world economies, hardly a pillar of any society. Perhaps the light should be directed at the Charitable…pick one, how about The American Cancer Society, so well intentioned for all these years a generation of years even, promises of cancer cures all the while, and yet irradiation and chemotherapy is their famous but lame claim to fame. The American Medical Association has and is the leader in gifts and intentional direction to tort reform~~~just ask anyone. And our Pharmaceutical industry throws more money at any, ANY excuse to raise prices and keep them jacked, but not without the legal fascist system being well greased, occasionally they get caught going the illegal routes as well, nothing new here. And if they can mandate that the Food & Drug Administration is now their international quality assurance workforce, and patsy…then so it is, or have we all smiled and forgotten the Taiwan/heparin example.

    A much broader list of examples could be made about the irrational, ya IRRATIONAL fear of government-funded universal health care, the problem is not the universal health care, the problem is squarely upon the shoulders of the U.S. fascist government…when democracy returns to the USA, then the government deserves my respect. Or shall we further pretend that democracy is alive and working in these United States of Pet Owners?

    Only thru the workings of fascism has this country functioned of late. Was not President Obama’s election in 2008 the result of world record setting campaign donations, the tune was $700M, or so it was reported. Only thru the workings of fascism has sustained cronies in the Congressional Assembly, I have grown to hate what those names demand, I won’t bother to list the names, list them in your own thoughts, and list the directions these clowns have chosen to travel…but don’t pretend it is democracy. I’m amazed when the wholly seduced believe it was democracy that brought about the Korean Conflict, or Vietnam, or the falling of the Berlin Wall, it was fear and corruption rallied by cronies for hire.

    As the old saying goes: you can’t have a falling of the Berlin Wall, without an Iran Contra Affair. Does the Medical Journal of Australia editor-in-chief Dr. Stephen Leeder, actually believe that such actions were democratically mandated from the people of the U.S.? I can only say to the editor-in-chief that all men are equal, regardless of nationality to value fairness and equity is my job within a democracy, but of fascism the reverse. The USA is no longer a democracy, for a long time now.

    Now Brett Wilkins, I know I’m a little strong, so if you need censor me and boot me out, then that is the way it should be.

    wild;)

  3. wildApril 11, 2014 at 12:47 pmReply

    This just in, as of yesterday, or there abouts…Sebelius the sole HHS director during the Obama administration hath resigned, one week, or so, after the initial ‘sign-up period’ of the ACA (Affordable Health Care Act). And before I announce whom shall be appointed by Obama, it may be good to know something about the next HHS leader.

    She is another female. She has worked for Walmart Charitable division, and Bill Gates Foundation, also some Treasury work during the Clinton administration…(frankly I’m surprized she doesn’t have FoxxEntertainment also listed as a reference)…perhaps a quote from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell welcoming Sebelius’ resignation with the typical Republican soundbyte: “Obamacare has to go.”

    “I hope this is the start of a candid conversation about Obamacare’s shortcomings and the need to protect Medicare,” McConnell said.

    So the new leader, M. Burwell was previously confirmed by the Senate for her current Budget Post for the Obama administration of which only the Republican lawmakers could bring about that unanimous confirmation . Shall yet another unanimous confirmation be forth coming for M. Burwell in the post of HHS Secretary?

    To return to my original argument in my first post herein:

    {{{“Part of the solution, argues Dr. Francescutti, is overcoming irrational fear of government-funded health care.”

    Irrational, Irrational…rofl, the fear of government-funded health care has be rationalized, quite well I think for many years, simply put: there is no reason to trust the U.S. government to faithfully execute anything.}}}

    I can only say the ACA shall now be under new management, I wonder if the good Dr. Francescutti feels ‘safe’ with this appointment candidate?

    hahahaa rofl

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsApril 11, 2014 at 3:07 pmReplyAuthor

      So, let me get this straight, or let me ask for a clarification– you trust the Canadian, British, German, Japanese, Italian, Danish, Maltese, etc., governments to run the developed world’s health care, but you don’t trust the most powerful government in the world? One which has been successfully running medical programs larger than most nations’ health care systems for the past half century? One which can read the date on a coin in a Pakistani shepherd’s hand (before accidentally blowing him up with a Predator drone)? The US government has done many great (and terrible) things in the past. Surely it’s got the ability to pull this off?

  4. wildApril 12, 2014 at 7:30 amReply

    To clarify…What type of future leadership shall we expect from the next Obama HHS dept. appointee? I would expect more of the same… slow & foggy implementation of the ACA program, I would expect occasional and distinct disruptive future changes to the ACA program, I would expect further leadership in the wrong direction, absolutely benefiting the insurance industry. This is the type of leadership (regardless whom is actually appointed to the HHS position) that shall continue the disaster in Disaster Capitalism.

    I would even go so far as to opine that ‘The Insurance sector’ of the USA economy has magically become the latest neoconic benefactor of such leadership. A great wealth of achievement known as the ACA is the plump gift mandated by none other than the cronie congress & of course President Obama, cheerfully given over to the Insurance Industry. {sorry, but YOU and I have never seen a voting ballot stating: ACA ~ For or Against ~} You can bet the insurance lobbyist that accomplished this have been well paid. It was the insurance lobby money that bought the votes in congress that have presented you & I with the ACA…was there ever any doubt of that? This is why we didn’t get ‘Medicare for all’ or some type of universal/government based health care.

    Just think of all the families throughout the USA that obtain their income from the insurance sector, some agents, some underwriters, some administrative, some statisticians, etc… now where would they all be if it wasn’t for the ACA? Yeah a plump gift indeed. The message is clear: teach your children how to sell insurance, invest in the gamble, and rewrite the lengthy fine print to suit your bottom line. Heyyyyyy it isn’t always pretty, but insurance is what it is, nothing more than a gamble.

    Does the USA have the ability to ‘pull this off’… they already have!

    At times I don’t state my position clearly, and for this subject, I am just as skeptical of the ACA leadership as I have been of the leadership of other various departments of the US government. I don’t expect perfection from any Federal agency, but when they do make a mistake…and somethings glare…I throw in my noise in protest.

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsApril 12, 2014 at 12:47 pmReplyAuthor

      Would that more would “throw in their noise in protest.”

  5. wildApril 13, 2014 at 2:34 pmReply

    Hey Brett, I found someone else whom I would throw ‘my noise in protest’ with because he states the obvious so more directly than I, and he uses a different angle, but he gets it said, Terrance Heath states a very clearly written article “The Ryan Budget Shows What Republicans Want To Do To America”

    Cleverly Heath rightly includes a shot at Fox News…LOL, I didn’t watch the video, but I bet it is funny.

    And by the way…what is the deal with Dick Durbin (D-IL) I thought he announced he was quitting like 2 years ago! Good Ole Boy he is, but I wish he would just get out of the way, nobody misses Kucinich, yanno!

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/11-3

    wild;)

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