America should find healthcare system that maximizes cost-efficiency, minimizes risk


Recently, conservative hysteria has focused on President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plan, with some going so far as to call it “a complete denial of the principles of freedom of choice and self-ownership.”

Many deluded patriots bring loaded firearms to town hall meetings in an attempt to stop the institution of socialist death panels, bent on killing elderly people. This ridiculousness must stop immediately, not for the sake of President Obama, but for the sake of all Americans who can no longer afford to funnel fortunes into the pockets of insurance companies that provide as little as possible in return. It is tempting to consider corporate crime as less destructive than organized violent crime, but any organization that systematically removes wealth from a community without providing a real and desirable service is guilty and deserving of legal repercussions and intervention.

The first question that must be answered is whether or not there is something wrong with our current system of medical insurance and treatment. A logical inspection and comparison with other systems gives a clear answer. Americans pay more for medical costs than any other country in the world, and yet our current system still leaves 45 million without insurance. It allows 22,000 to die each year from easily treatable diseases, and 700,000 to succumb to bankruptcy. Perhaps the most unpleasant statistic is that the United States has the highest infant mortality rate of the 23 richest countries in the world. Other democratic countries like France, Japan, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom have implemented government-regulated systems that unquestionably outperform their American counterparts, with administrative costs four times lower, resulting in savings of hundreds of billions of dollars.

One argument frequently put forth by conservatives as an attempt to refute the superiority of government-regulated healthcare is that people in Canada who need very expensive operations are often placed on waiting lists. Inevitably, some of these people will die before receiving the treatment they need. Others, who are affluent enough, come to America, where money is the only factor determining who receives treatment and who does not.

I once spoke with a conservative economist whose grandmother lived in Canada and paid a very large amount of money to come to America for treatment. I am (of course) glad his grandmother lived and happy she received treatment. What I cannot be happy about, is that my grandmother, despite having worked very hard her whole life on a family farm in Kansas, would have no possibility to be treated for the same illness in America; there would be no waiting list for her. She would not receive medical help, simply because she is not rich enough.

Life is full of inherent risk and uncertainty, and it is not always the hardest working or most worthy who make it to the very top. I am content with the necessity of some deserving people receiving less than others, but money should not be the sole factor determining who receives healthcare and who does not. The fact that Canada’s healthcare system cannot always provide ideal medical care for all of its citizens does not mean that it is inferior to the current system of the United States.

The second question is whether or not there is a way for us to implement policy changes that minimize risk, maximize cost-efficiency and provide Americans the opportunity to live without the threat of having their lives destroyed by medical costs they cannot afford. The answer to this second question is directly related to the first. Many medical experts in the United States have access to details of these various government-regulated systems in place around the world and have been studying those systems to help the United States selectively adopt the most successful of the policies that have already been tested.

If other democratic countries like France, Japan, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom can develop cost-effective, efficient systems of healthcare insurance, surely it is possible in the United States. I am proud of my country and believe that the U.S. has some of the strongest intellects and institutions in the world. If other nations can do it, so can we. We’re not perfect, but there is no reason to believe that our government is hopelessly ineffectual and incompetent (although, given our nation’s previous administration, I understand and forgive those confused opinions). The only way we can fail to develop a healthcare system that provides for all Americans is to allow the entrenched interests of those who profit from the current system to confuse and distort the issues facing us today.

– Myles Ikenberry is a graduate student in chemical engineering. Please send comments to