â€œIn Rome last week, I debated Italian politicians on national radio, tried to explain our health system to government and industry leaders, and spoke at a conference at the Vatican about the fundamental values of health care and the common good.
Some take-aways: Europeans truly believe that we have a permanent underclass in the U.S. of 47 million poor citizens who have absolutely no access to health care. They are shocked at how barbaric we are and that any civilized country would tolerate such a thing. When I tried to explain the facts -- through a translator -- to an Italian senator on RAI radio, he was incensed.
He didn't want to hear that we spend nearly as much as a percentage of our GDP on public programs -- to cover about one-third of our people -- as many European countries spend of their GDPs in total on health care. Or that almost half of our more than $2 trillion in health expenditures are primarily through these public programs that cover the poor, the aged, the disabled, veterans, and lower-income children. Or that many of the uninsured are temporarily without coverage in a system that ties health insurance to the workplace. Or that the uninsured do get care -- albeit in a far from ideal system -- through hospitals, private physicians, community health centers, charity clinics, and other means. Or that Americans value private coverage with its broader access to new technologies and medicines and faster access to surgeries and treatments.
It seemed almost as if he wanted people to believe that there is nothing at all to be learned from Americans so as not to crack the veneer of socialized systems.â€
Attention must be paid by American officials â€“ particularly by thoughtful legislators such as Senator Max Baucus (the Chairman of the Finance Committee -- with jurisdiction over the major public health insurance programs) -- whose â€œfive broad principles of reformâ€ are, whether you agree with the basic premise or all or none, worthy of intense scrutiny and robust debate. They are:
Universal coverage. (â€œWe cannot address the health care system, and leave a growing portion of the country behind. Though this much be a public and private sector mix.â€)
Sharing the burden. (â€œThe way to ensure affordable coverage is to create pooling arrangements.â€)
Controlling costs. (â€œAny serious proposal must reduce the rate of growth of health care costs.â€)
Prevention. (â€œBy making prevention the foundation of our health care system, we can spare patients needless suffering. We can avoid the high costs of treating an illness that has been allowed to progress.â€)
Shared responsibility. (â€œHealth coverage is a shared responsibility and all should contribute.â€)
Note: Parenthetical quotes come directly from Senator Baucus' website.
The one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that there are no easy solutions â€¦ Americaâ€™s SiCKO Apologists notwithstanding.