Advocates of universal health care have made an enormous mistake, one that more than anything else explains why most Americans are balking at adopting the kind of comprehensive health coverage present in every other advanced democracy. It is a failure to make it the top priority to communicate to the middle class the information pertinent to what they care about the most, their money. More specifically, the incredible amount of dollars each person stands to save if the United States makes the switch to a universal system.
The basic facts are these. When conservatives claim, as they are wont to do, that America already enjoys the best health care system in the world so why go to radical lengths to fix it they are, well, lying. We know this because it is no secret that America suffers from the shortest lifespans and highest juvenile mortality rates among the top twenty 1st world countries, American death rates are no better than seen in some 2ndst world countries have higher levels of both and the citizens are living longer. It is not possible to correctly claim that American medical care is the best when we have the worst mortality states despite a very high per capita income. Something has gone terribly wrong. Matters are getting so bad that the US is falling behind other prosperous democracies. Danes and Irish used to die younger than Americans but now live longer. In some states lifespans are actually decreasing, a shocking societal failure all too like the shortening lives of Russians. In the academic literature I have used technical analysis to show that this is not, as apologists sometimes claim, due to high levels of population diversity and immigration.
Liberals tend to focus on the practical and especially moral need for America to do what every other advanced nation is doing and provide high quality health care for every citizen. After all, Americans have universal access to largely government operated police and fire services (click here). If free markets are not good for police and fire protection then why is so great for health protection? Bill Moyers is a premiere example of a liberal who is prone to emphasizing how all good and decent Americans must embrace the moral call to care for every citizen. These arguments may be correct, but they are politically naïve. Naïve because most middle class Americans are self absorbed, and really care only about their own finances. As I and other researchers have shown, middle class Americans are under an exceptional level of chronic financial insecurity and stress, the American Way being the most Darwinian, survival of the fittest. And Americans also think that extending comprehensive care to everyone will increase costs overall and raise their taxes while increasing the national debt (documents.nytimes.com/new-york-times-cbs-news-poll#p=12). Appeals to the morality sensibilities of the American majority simply will not do the job. You have to appeal big time to their pocket books.
This brings us back to the statistical facts, financial in this case. It is well known that the same nonuniversal American system that is killing off the citizens is incredibly expensive. It's the worst deal in the 1st world. And this is where the pro-universal care crowd has missed the PR boat. On average people dwelling in other advanced nations spend $3000-4000 dollars a year on their health. In the US the average cost is around $7000, almost a sixth of personal income. Universal systems not only are efficacious in saving lives, they are far more cost efficient than the Rube Goldberg affair we have been stuck with so far. Universal systems are more rational, coordinated schemes that keep costs in line while delivering quality care.
Now, I will ask you the reader what I ask audiences during presentations on the comparative socio-financial situation of westerners. It is a question no one seems to know the answer to. It is a shocking lack of basic knowledge because neither the mainstream press and media, or universal care advocates have bothered to tell folks about this stunning fact. Do you know how much money Americans spend -- and in large portion waste -- for no good purpose over a lifespan on their own health?
Well, let's do the math. Average western European or Canadian spends $3500 a year, over a 75-year lifespan that's in the neighborhood of quarter million dollars. The typical American outlays $7000 a year -- right there we could all be saving a cool few thousand a year if we went down the universal care path. Multiply the $7000 by 75 and that's about half a million over a life. In other words, for the privilege of living shorter lives Americans are literally being ripped off to the tune to a quarter of a million bucks that they could keep if only we did what the Europeans and Japanese are doing!