This started out as a conversation on a social media site regarding universal health care. I want to be clear that I'm not "attacking" anyone I was talking to, or any of that...just acknowledging that the root of this video lies with a couple of conversations.
In the first, a friend of a friend (and a guy I went to school with) came into a conversation about health care asking "Do we really want universal single-payer health care?" My response was a long version of "yes," to which he responded that he has family in Italy who refuse to use the government system there, choosing instead (I guess) to pay out of pocket and citing a "4 to 6 hour wait."
So I crafted a longer answer, which fed into a second conversation. First, let's take a quick look at world health care systems, and in particular a comparison of Italian and US health statistics.
The most effective, efficient, and successful health systems seem to be in the Nordic countries. I can't speak to all of them, but I know in Finland there is a mandatory, single-payer universal system that most people use, with a discretionary, for-profit system that a small percentage of people use.
I'm in my early 40's and I can count on one hand the number of years of my adult life that I've had any access to medical care of any kind, save for the "go to the emergency room for everything" method which I intentionally avoid because it contributes to increased health care costs which are then blamed on the poor in order to keep people at each other's throats instead of paying attention to where the money's really going.
With that as a basis for comparison, 4-6 hours doesn't seem like a big deal.
Life expectancy in Italy: 81 years. In the US: 78
Obesity in Italy: 10%. In the US: 34%
Potential Years of Life Lost (a measurement used by OECD to metricize premature, preventable death): In Italy: 1.8 years for women, 3.5 for men. In the US: 3.5 for women and 6.5 for men.
Heart attack deaths per 100K people per year: Italy, 81. US, 129
Traffic fatalities per 100k/year: Italy 9.3, US 14.6
Suicide: Italy 4.9, US 10.5
Infant mortality/deaths per 1000 live births: Italy: 3.7. US: 6.5
Low birth weight: %age of infants weighing less than 2,500g at birth: Italy: 7. US: 8.2
%age of population with diabetes: Italy, 5.9. US, 10.3
Incidence rates of all cancers per 100K/year: Italy: 274.3 US 300.2
New AIDS cases per 1M/year: Italy, 14.3 US, 122.2
New HIV cases per 1M/year: Italy, 0.24 US, 0.39
Practicing Dr.s per 1K/population: Italy, 3.4; US, 2.7
Medical graduates per 100K: Italy, 11.3; US, 6.5
Gynecologists per 100K women: Italy, 40.8 ; US, 26.8
Psychologists per 100K people: Italy, 18; US, 14.5
Average # doctor visits per person per year: Italy, 7; US,3.9
Average length of stay for heart attack: Italy, 7.7 days; US, 5.3 days.
It should be noted that Italy by no means leads the pack in health care. It should also be noted that there are a few things we're pretty good at - survival rates for a few certain cancers (prostate and cervical) are among the highest in the world, and we rank very highly in certain other things like knee and hip replacement surgeries.
However, it must be repeated: we spend nearly twice as much per person as any other country in the world to get this care...and for what we're paying per person, some of us aren't getting ANY care.
We're paying nearly twice as much as our next competitor per person. We're spending nearly twice as much as our next competitor as a percentage of GDP. Yet millions in this country die young from preventable illnesses, never having adequate health care.
The "unregulated free market," in the case of health care, has by and large been a disaster. We should be the healthiest country on the planet, by a wide margin, and we're spending enough to make very certain that *everybody* has access...but we're barely off the bottom of the list of industrial countries by most measures, and in many we rank behind nations that many Americans would consider emerging or second-world, including places like Portugal, the Czech Republic, Spain, Estonia, and Slovakia.
Feel free to take a look at the numbers yourself. If you're like me, you'll find yourself thinking things like "Oh, hey, we lead in prostate cancer survival so that's not so bad..." until you remember that we're paying twice as much, or more, for our health care. Then you really have to start wondering, if unrestrained capitalism is so wonderful and "socialism," as universal single-payer health care is often mistakenly called, is so horrible, given that socialized systems are emphatically more effective and efficient at saving and improving the quality of lives through health care.
But it's easy to simply point out the problems and shortcomings of a system. The real question is, what are some solutions? When all the talking is done, we are left with this: What do we need to change to make our system more effective and efficient?
The answer to that lies in another conversation that took place on a different friend's social media page.
My friend wrote this question:
Why am I seeing so many people who are younger than me with rotting teeth? Don't tell me it's because they can't afford to go to the dentist. That's no excuse for letting your teeth go.
This kind of bugged me, because frankly my teeth are in horrible shape, and the only reason for that TODAY is that I have no access to dental care, and haven't had in a long time. Certainly not at the level I need it. It didn't you know, PISS ME OFF or anything, but it kind of bugged me that someone would say that being unable to afford dental care is no excuse for not having it.
On another level, it's really insulting to even treat the question as though it's something which needs an "excuse." I'd *love* to get my teeth fixed. I can't afford it. When I can, I will. To suggest that this is something which needs an "excuse" strikes me as profoundly lacking in understanding of what poverty is. But again, it wasn't something where I felt all angry about it, so I made a short anecdotal comment about my own situation, didn't provoke a confrontation or anything, nor did I want to. I thought I made my point - blaming the poor for being poor is rather silly and pointless.
But then this response came up.
Drugs. Plain and simple. Nowadays, they have no self control.
This response, to that original question - why are young people's teeth getting worse? - perfectly sums up the problem we have with health care and a lot of other things in this country.
First on the surface...what silliness! Meth wasn't invented yesterday. Nor heroin, nor cocaine. Make whatever argument you want about the effects of those drugs on the body - and teeth - with long-term use, but there is no spike in drug use over the last decade. There IS a spike in family poverty over the last decade, and unfortunately quality dental care has become (and to an extent always has been) a luxury.
But then there's the deeper problem: if we can find someone to look down our nose at about it, then we can avoid the complex and confusing series of steps necessary to assume responsibility for our own individual complicity in the various issues that have plagued this country both economically and socially over the last thirty years (and some problems which have always been there, even when we pretended they weren't).
That takes a bit of work - you kind of have to commit to staying informed, ensuring that you have a solid ability to discern what you WANT to hear and what you are TOLD, from what is TRUE.
This is especially difficult in a society which focuses its educational efforts on teaching people WHAT to think, rather than teaching them HOW.
It's not easy to look that deeply into yourself - we all have thoughts that we wish we didn't, and all but the very best of us have done things we wish we hadn't, and we all have things about us that we wish we could change, and none of us likes to think we've been fooled (or worse, confused by our own lack of intellectual rigor) to the detriment of our own self-interest and that of the society in which we live. It's embarrassing to be wrong, so we try to avoid dealing with it when we are by using an elaborate series of head games that we play with ourselves.
One of those games is finding a convenient scapegoat on which to blame a problem that actually has an entirely different main cause that is much more difficult and frightening for us to deal with on a personal level: the reality that our priorities have become incredibly broken in this culture - not just this country, but much of the western world, and certainly in other parts as well - and we have to get them in order on a personal level before we can hope to get the country or the species where it needs to be...and we're running out of time and resources with which to make those changes.
"Drugs" are not what's creating the decreasing general dental health in this country.
The first cause of that and many other issues we currently face (including "drugs") is poverty. Add to that for-profit health care with no universal single-payer option.
But there are other causes, too.
It's caused by McDonald's and Doritos and Coca-Cola.
Its caused by parents distracted playing Farmville and not doing the things some of our parents did for us (and this had already begun to decay when I was a kid), like making a routine out of a consistent bedtime every night that featured some reading and attendance to hygiene before bed.
But more than anything else it's caused by our increasing self-obsession, our ongoing conviction that what's easiest and most convenient now is what's best for the long term, either for me or for humanity as a whole. It's caused by lack of empathy and understanding. It's caused by making my "right" to a bigger television more important than your right to be able to chew food.
We have lost sight of what *enables* equality of opportunity. Worse, we seem to have lost sight of why equality of opportunity is a good thing, why the most important thing any human being can do is contribute to ensuring that every human being has a fair chance to become the best human being they can.
Instead it's "why should I have to pay" and "speak English or die" and "poor people are poor because they deserve to be poor" and by the way now let's all sit in front of the idiot box and worship a soul-less caricature of humanity as they spend enough on booze in one night to permanently fix my teeth.
I'm not saying that the people of Jersey Shore personally owe me personally the cost of getting my teeth fixed. I'm saying it's ridiculous that we live in a culture which worships this kind of wretched excess at the same moment in which millions of our fellow citizens and human beings are living in excruciating pain and horrifying conditions daily, while those of us who have the means to remain just slightly above that line economically sit around and worship and try to emulate people who throw away millions of dollars on nonsense and ego gratification.
Hey, I've got an ego too, and I'm not at all opposed to personal comfort. But we're worshipping the wrong things. We've become selfish and apathetic. We've stopped caring about each other as people. We refuse to let go of tribalism and religious differences and sexual prejudices.
"Oh wait a minute," you say, "I give hrmhrmhrhh dollars to such and so, my friends are never short on food. I'm always there to help them."
What do you do for someone who you don't know? What do you do for someone you don't even WANT to help, but who obviously NEEDS the help?
What most of us do is hide behind token gestures and then blame the victim to excuse any extent to which our behavior falls short of what we intuitively understand to be the *best* behavior - doing everything you can to help other people, even if it means sacrificing some things yourself.
Yet here we sit, being told by the megacorporations that own all our media and most of our government, that they - the small group who holds the vast majority of wealth in most capitalist economies - shouldn't be asked to pay even the same taxes they were paying thirty years ago, but low-wage public employees and people who are already not paid nearly enough for what they do - like teachers and firemen and police - should accept lower wages, higher taxes, and the continuing and escalating violation of their rights.
If they don't have what they want in life, it's their own fault...and if they are good little button-pushers and keep propping up corporations and politicians who act unethically in their own short-term interest, then the Big People agree not to take away anything they *do* have in their life, and maybe even to allow them the resources to live in relative comfort.
If they want health care, they ought to go get it. If they don't it's their own fault - even though they can't afford to pay for it.
And some of us...some of us actually believe that shit.
THAT is what's wrong with the health care industry in this country, and fixing it starts with us - you and me, as individuals - changing our thinking in such a way that the dignity of human life is a higher priority than our own personal ability to buy shiny things that we don't really need.
The problem with our health care is not a economic problem or a political problem - it's an individual attitude problem, and it won't get fixed until we decide, as individuals, to reject the values of greed and self-service and embrace the values of love and respect for all people.
When nobody asks, "Why should I have to pay," then we can have a health care system that works.