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Open Forum: Health care system could bankrupt the U.S.

As a retired physician I take exception to two recent letters that berated attempts at health reform. They contained no medical facts and were not constructive to the debate.

One slogan was “Don’t mess with the best health care system in the world.”   This statement can only come from someone who has good coverage and good access to health care.The fact is that 50 million Americans, including 30 percent of U.S. children, did not have insurance coverage. The U.S. is in the worst quartile of the top 20 world nations in infant and maternal mortality and survival of acute asthmatic attacks, to mention only two of many comparison markers. We do not have the best “system” in the world.

Our health care delivery system is bad for most businesses. It costs an average of $1,300 more per car for GM, Daimler-Chrysler and Ford to manufacture the same cars in the U.S. as in Canada because of health costs.  Health insurance premiums have surpassed taxes as business’s top problem.  We’ve operated on the false premise that market forces control costs of health care like they do for most businesses, a fallacy that was recognized 50 years ago. Few individuals shop for medical procedures on the basis of cost.

Our system could bankrupt the country. Since 1993 we have been on a straight-line rise from 7 percent to 18 percent of GDP expenditures on health care. Most of the other top 20 countries are below 10 percent. Our “administrative” (insurance) overhead is 30  percent while in most other countries it’s 5-10 percent. Only a universal, single payer system seems likely to control costs without decreasing quality and patient choice of physician. More and more physicians are supporting this option — see “Physicians for a National Health Program.” Google PNHP or MNHEALTHPLAN.

Charles R. Peterson, M.D.