Can't Get No Health Care Satisfaction

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the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Can't Get No Health Care Satisfaction

A Fox News anchor said Saturday that if Mick Jagger was from the United States he'd finally qualify for Medicare.

She's kidding -- right?

The anchor made a pretty lame attempt at highlighting the rock star's advancing age. She did, however, do a good job of pointing out how backward the U.S. health care system is.

See, Mick Jagger's from the United Kingdom and he's had universal government medical benefits since he was five. That's because 60 years ago the United Kingdom instituted their National Health Service.

George Bernard Shaw once said that "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." And that distinctive terminology doesn't just lend itself to cute little linguistic differences like how they say "lorry" when we say "truck."

There is also the language used in the U.S. that doesn't have corresponding lingo in the UK. One example of jargon unique to the U.S. is the term "redlining." In the U.S., redlining is when an insurance company denies you health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition. In the UK, redlining doesn't exist.

In fact, according to Health Affairs, "the number one cited health policy journal devoted to publishing original, peer-reviewed research and commentary," medical redlining is quantified as the "denial rate among applicants for non-group coverage." Health Affairs lists conditions frequently redlined and the rates at which people are denied access to further coverage. Two of the patient subsets most commonly redlined are breast cancer survivors, 43 percent of the time and HIV patients 100 percent of the time.

There's a neat organization in the world. It's called the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. The group consists of 30 member countries that embrace the notion of "democracy" and support a "free market" economy. It used to be called the Organization for European Economic Cooperation and it began as a result of the Marshall Plan - America's effort to rebuild Europe after World War II. The OECD compiles statistics: Statistics that illuminate the economic conditions and comparatives among their representative democracies.

OECD statistics state that in 2003, the per capita out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare in the U.S. were $722; while in the UK they were only $208.

The Brits aren't just saving money, they're living longer. Again, according to OECD, folks in the UK live about 11 months longer than folks in the U.S. This means that in Mick Jagger's lifetime, with numbers extrapolated for inflation, the average resident of the UK would have saved somewhere around $30,000 over their U.S. counterpart. Think of it as money they could use to live on during that extra year of life.

But that's just the difference in out-of-pocket expenses. Out-of-pocket costs are nothing compared with a nation's overall medical expenses. Here the numbers get really staggering.

Again, according to the same smart data-gathering agency that we created under the Marshall Plan, the 2005 per capita cost for health care in the U.S. was $5,290 while in the UK it was only $2,230. That's $3,060 per person per year. Over the course of a lifetime that sort of money adds up. In simple terms it means that Mick Jagger's lifetime health needs will cost his society about $180,000 less then our own John Mellencamp will cost us.

All together, between out-of-pocket and regular health expenditures, some London rocker's health care is almost a quarter of a million dollars cheaper -- again adjusted for inflation -- than our rock star from Seymour, Ind.

But those expenses are national averages. Ordinary people aren't as capable of making up the difference as rock stars are. Statistics show that middle income folks still chip in their share of health care costs but go without needed services.

According to a 2002 survey of U.S. taxpayers earning between $25,000 and $50,000 per year conducted by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, 22 percent of middle class Americans postponed receiving care. Twenty-three percent had problems paying for the care they did receive and 13 percent did not get necessary drug prescriptions filled.

Remember Mick Jagger singing, "Mother's little helper?" In the U.S. it isn't just a "drag" getting old -- it's also a little less likely and enormously more expensive.

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is host of the The Pulse Morning Show, which broadcasts in Maine and is available on the web at zoneradio.com. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States." She was the Green Party's vice-presidential candidate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, with David Cobb as its presidential candidate. Pat may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com

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