health-related news items underscore how backward the United States is,
apart from technologically sophisticated ways to murder foreign
innocents in unprovoked wars, or how to illegally spy on its own
We’ve got smart bombs to terrorize people
in the Middle East, but a completely dumb, ineffective system of private
medical lethality that often kills those it’s supposed to cure here at
The first revelation is a study comparing the medical destinies of
American and English, white, middle-aged males, across the entire income
U.S. residents had consistently higher diabetes, heart disease, stroke,
lung disease and cancer rates, irrespective of economic or educational
status. This despite American healthcare outlays being $5,200 per
person, double England’s amount.
''Everybody should be discussing it: Why isn't the richest country in
the world the healthiest country in the world?'' queried Dr. Michael
Marmot, from London’s University College.
Based on medical statistics from both nations, the study notes the
United States spends more on healthcare than any other industrialized
nation, but trails badly in life expectancy.
Conservative apologists for America’s profits-before-people outlook
professed the findings a “mystery,” or sought to attribute them to
obesity and stress.
The “fat man” excuse was quickly deflated. Data was entered to create a
hypothetical construct in which English and American lifestyle risks,
including U.S. obesity, were balanced. Taking everything together,
Americans were still less healthy.
We had twice the rate of diabetes versus the English, 12.5 percent to 6
percent. For high blood pressure, it was 42 percent for Americans, 34
percent for the English. U.S. cancer incidence was almost double that
recorded in England.
The findings confirm a long-known reality. Measured by many vital
indices, the U.S. lags behind roughly two dozen other countries,
according to the World Health Organization.
If the United States had a guaranteed national healthcare apparatus that
put a premium on preventive medicine, especially for children, with a
network of free clinics, wouldn’t our kids grow up to be healthier
adults? Wouldn’t they be better cared for -- on a mass basis -- as they
approached golden age?
Nearly 50 million Americans are uninsured. Many more have shoddy
medical coverage fraught with high co-pays and deductibles. Doctor
visits entail endless waiting, commonly resulting in hasty, superficial
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry favors producing profitable vanity
drugs, forsaking finding cures for serious diseases. Mass emergencies?
How many doses of vaccine are available in your community in the event
of a Bird Flu pandemic?
The infant mortality scandal
Nothing exposes the bankruptcy of American medicine more glaringly than
its routine baby killing.
Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States ties Hungary, Malta,
Poland and Slovakia at a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies,
according to the second report.
Compiled by Save the Children, the rankings are determined by data from
countries and agencies around the globe.
Our medical system stresses expensive procedures for complicated cases,
usually performed at such prestigious hospitals as the Mayo Clinic.
However, we don’t offer adequate primary and preventive healthcare
Racism and classism play a major role. America’s humiliating position
is linked to skin color, and income disparities. Among U.S. blacks,
there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, a figure approaching Third
Nearly half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely each year. Black
infants are twice as likely as white babies to be premature, to
experience low birth weight and to die at birth, says Save the
The researchers also pointed to a lack of national health insurance and
short maternity leaves as factors in poor U.S. rankings.
U.S. teenage pregnancies are also a problem, which could be ameliorated
by more readily available sex education and contraceptives, both opposed
by the political/religious Right. Its anti-choice fervency also makes
it harder for young women to obtain comprehensive, reproduction-related
services offered by Planned Parenthood and other groups it seeks to shut
Our system just doesn’t work
As worsening economic injustice creates a widening chasm between the
very rich and virtually everyone else, even relatively well off
Americans face adversity under our failed medical system.
Countless others confront outright fear and complete ruin.
With everything already costing so much (especially gasoline and heating
oil), the unexpected loss of one job in a typical two-breadwinner family
can mean having to abandon insurance, casting everyone’s fate to the
wind. When illness or injury occur, hunger and even homelessness often
Our babies are perishing at an unacceptable rate, teenagers can’t get
needed care, the middle-aged are increasingly ill, and American seniors
commonly consume their life savings to meet all attendant costs of
enduring deteriorating health in private nursing home settings.
In virtually all countries from which our immigrant forebears came here
to seek improved lives, ordinary citizens now enjoy better, less costly
healthcare than in America.
It’s as if our grandparents migrated in vain. That’s a betrayal we
Along with other movements for necessary social change, we need to
jointly fight for public welfare and the common good, in all areas, but
particularly in affordable, quality medical care for everyone.
Let’s make it an issue in upcoming electoral campaigns, plus an
impassioned demand in street protests.
Politicians who won’t put the people’s health above private medical/insurance/pharmaceutical
profiteering need to be sent packing!
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior,
Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary for various outlets
since the Sixties. He can be reached at: