Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Fort Knox, KY
The Unsung benefits to Universal healthcare by Eric Armstrong.
This is an interesting article and touches on some very true aspects of American lifestyle.
American politicians frequently disparage the systems of Universal Health Care that are so popular in Canada and most of Europe. They claim that America's health care system is the best in the world (rightly), and ask rehetorically, "How would you like to get your health care at the DMV?"
No one likes a slow government beuracracy, so that argument generally wins the day, carried along by pride in America capitalism. But the problem with that argument is what it doesn't say.
For one thing, they're not telling you about the billions of dollars American families spend on health care. They're not telling you that half of all bankruptcies declared in 2004 came as the result of medical emergencies--and half of those people had medical insurance.
They're also not telling you that the American people are sicker--and fatter--than any other industrialized nation on earth. We work longer, and take pride in that. But we also subject ourselves to more stress in the process, giving ourselves less rest and less time to recover. Then there is our diet. But I'll get to that in a moment.
The bottom line is that America has the highest levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in the world. America has the best health care system in the world because America needs it--and the American people pay the price for it--in dollars, in sickness, and in lost time on the job after sickness, as well as lost time with family and friends leading up to it.
Universal Health Care provides a marvelous antidote to that situation--not because of the diseases it cures, but rather because of the diseases it prevents.
Simply put, Universal Health Care empowers governments to act on behalf of the populace. Is something driving up health care costs? Then enact regulations to remove the causes, so they go back down. There are three areas in which the government action has made a huge differences in places like Canada and Europe. We'll look at each of the separately:
* Leisure time
It seems like a small thing, but leisure time is hugely important when it comes to health. Canada and Europe place hard limits on the number of hours in a day, the number of days in a week, and the number of weeks in a year. Some Americans get a feeling of superiorty because we work harder and longer, but America is paying the price.
American are more alienated from friends and family than any other culture on earth. We rush through more meals, bolt down more egregiously harmful foodstuffs, and literally work ourselves to death.
Countries with systems of Universal Health Care are generally more concerned with human welfare at the outset, which is one reason they instituted that system. But, once in place, such a country is also in a position to balance it's Gross Domestic Output (GDP) with the billions it's spending on health care costs. The result is a system that balances the needs of corporations with those of the people who work in them.
In America, in contrast, the government is more concerned with GDP. Of course, we also spend billions on Medicare and Medicaid, so you think we would wake up and smell the roses. But as large as the amount is, the bulk of health care money comes from individuals and insurance companies--all of which adds to the GDP. So, on paper at least, disease-prevention is not one of government's primary concerns.
In one respect--occupational safety--America leads the world. America has a right to be proud of that fact. But in other respects, America is far down the list of developed nations in its concern for the environment--and that lack of concern is reflected in our health care costs.
What it all boils down to, really, is a simple case of short-sightedness. When someone loses an arm or a leg--or even their life--we can see that. So we take the steps necessary to prevent future occurences. As a result we have the most stringent occupational-safety standards in the world.
But when we foul the air, pollute the water, and fill our foods with dangerous ingredients, the problems generally don't appear until decades later. It was exactly the same with smoking. The long term health consequences were disastrous, but since the short term effects were essentially unnoticable, we let that situation go on for more than a century.
It is a fact of life that people tend not to weigh the long term consequences of everything they do. Some people plan for their financial future. Most don't. Some people work hard to understand what they need to know to make sure they're breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and eating healthy foods. Most don't.
In the ideal world, we depend on goverment to take the long range view. In fact, government probably began as an organized effort to store grain against future famine. Taxes evolved from the percentage of the harvest that was allotted for that purpose. If everyone saved, of course, there would be no need for such measures. But the fact are that everyone doesn't save; everyone doesn't plan for the financial future; everyone doesn't make the best decisions with respect to food, air, and water--and society, as well as individuals, pay a big price for the oversight.
Universal Health Care gives government the incentive to prevent the air and water pollution that precipitates cancer in the unhealthy body. And it gives government the incentive to make sure that people have access to the healthy foods and exercise they need to ward off the obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease that are such high levels in America.
There are ingredients in the American food supply that are making people sick--ingredients that are illegal in Canada and Europe, for that very reason. But while the Canadian and European systems of Universal Health Care gave those governmental bodies the incentive to outlaw those ingredients for the sake of public health, there is currently no such incentive in America. Those ingredients include:
* Partially hydrogenated oils. Much cheaper than butter, but 100 times more deadly. Illegal in Canada and Europe, but the best we've managed here is a labeling law that is too weak to remove it completely. In addition the most common hydrogenated oil is soybean oil, it depresses the thyroid, which lowers energy levels and leads to obesity. For more information, see What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?, and Trans Fat Labeling is Nearly Useless.
* High Fructose Corn Syrup. Massively high levels of sugar, which create an insulin spike that leads to obesity and diabetes. But that's not the worst of it. Fructose breaks down into formaldehyde in the body. In the quanties found in fruit, that's not a problem--especially because the fiber ensures that it enters the system at a manageable rate. But in the concentrated amounts found in HFCS, it's deadly--even more so, because most of the flour-based products that contain it have virtually no fiber whatsoever, so it floods your body in high doses. Then there is the fact that corn oil, like soy, depresses the thyroid. (Both are used to fatten cows for slaughter, because they're cheap and so effective.)
* Genetically Modified Foods. Health effects unknown. They're a major gamble--part of a huge social experiment. Illegal in Europe and Canada. We can't even get them labeled in America.
* Fluoroide. A by-product of aluminum production that cities are paying to put in their driinking water. Do you remember how to spell A-l-z-h-e-i-m-e-r-'s? The last city in Europe that fluoridated their drinking water (a city in Switzerland) recently stopped. There is some evidence that fluoride will bond with the surface of a child's tooth, strengthening the enamel. There is therefore some potential justification for using it in children's toothpaste. There is no justification whatever for using it in adult dental products, and absolutely zero reason to be ingesting the stuff. (Perhaps you recall that there was a study showing a city that reduced the number of cavities they had when their water was fluoridated. Less well known is the nearby control city whose water wasn't fluoridated. When their cavity levels were found to be lowered as well, they were dropped from the study! --Albert Carter, "The Healthy Cell Concept", Chapter 11 of The New Miracles of Rebound Exercise.)
When it comes to the quality of the food, the air, the water, and lifestyle, Canada and Europe consistently rank ahead of America. American prides itself on being more productive, but pays a huge cost for doing so. The additional productivity gives us a somewhat better standard of living, at the cost of a greatly reduced quality of life.
Government looks at GDP, and sees big numbers. But a big part of those numbers comes at the cost of human suffering and tragedy, as people spend their last dime attempting to recover from diseases that they should never have incurred.
With Universal Health Care, government begins to account for health problems properly--as a reduction in available resources, instead of as a contribution to GDP. And that fact may be the single most important of Universal Health Care, even if you ever use it. In fact, the very existence of Universal Health Care may give you the best possible chance that you'll never need it.