Dying for Wall Street: America�s worsening healthcare travesty
By Dennis Rahkonen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 15, 2006, 00:36

Two 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 populace.

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 home.

The first revelation is a study comparing the medical destinies of American and English, white, middle-aged males, across the entire income spectrum.

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 �treatment.�

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 services.

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 World levels.

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 Children.

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 down.

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 result.

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 mustn�t tolerate.

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

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