A new study published by PLoS Medicine tracks newborn mortality rates in 193 countries from 1990 to 2009. While newborn deaths worldwide declined by 1.3 million – 4.6 to 3.3 million – from 1990 to 2009, the newborn mortality rate in the United States ranks higher than 40 other countries.
I think there is a hidden story behind the study and the headlines. It’s a story about the growing wealth gap in this country and its effect on the medical care people receive – or don’t receive. The largest contributor to personal bankruptcies in this country is medical costs. We have a broken health care system in this country. Actually we don’t have a health care system at all in this country. Even with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 we still don’t have a universal health care system. Instead we have a patchwork of payment systems, providers and private for-profit bureaucracy.
For the United States to rank so low on newborn mortality speaks to the growing number of people in this country that struggle each day to pay the bills, making decisions to forgo medical treatment because they lack sufficient funds. We aren’t talking about a few hundred thousand people or even a few million people, that would already be tragic. No, we are talking about tens of millions of people in this country falling through the cracks. Most of these people have jobs and work hard but can’t afford sufficient health care coverage. Many more are out of work and have no coverage at all. This country has the ability with it’s vast resources and it’s wealth to create a real universal health care system that ensures everybody has access to medical treatment when they need it. How many more people could receive health care coverage in this country on just the profits of the health care insurance industry? Why is it acceptable to make a profit on the financing of medical treatment?
A book I recommend reading is The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care – by T. R. Reid. The author explains his experiences with the health care systems of several countries including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and India. It’s a good read and really informative about the different ways in which health care is practiced and paid for around the globe. Reid doesn’t advocate any specific system or country as a model for a new health care system for the United States. He believes it is up to us to combine the best aspects of all systems for a truly unique universal health care system for the U.S.
If American exceptionalism is real will we allow so many in this country to continue to fear bankruptcy just to see a doctor?