Tea Party Insanity: We All Lose

The United States of America has the worst health care system in the developed world. Though we develop some of the most advanced medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, procedures and research and despite the fact that we can claim some of the finest physicians in the world, our health system is expensive and mostly unavailable to the people most likely to become ill.

As a country, we have the worst health profile in the developed world falling behind all of our peers including Sweden, Germany, Japan, Italy, Turkey and even our totalitarian brothers in the north, Canada. We can even claim the embarrassing distinction of having an infant mortality rate higher than that of impoverished Cuba, despite being the wealthiest country that human history has ever seen.

It’s an absolute embarrassment. The inexplicable inability of a country as wealthy and powerful as the US to guarantee even basic protections of health to its citizens makes me incredibly ashamed to be an American.

Clearly, as Mr. Obama put it, a fraction of a single political party in a single house in a single branch of government doesn’t agree with me. In fact, their crass shutdown of the Federal Government in the name of nothing more than ideological insanity is an affront not only to Americans, but all of humanity. If we are a country that now values politics and control as more important than human health and life, then we have truly lost our way.

The irony is that the Affordable Care Act is only a modest improvement to a truly inhumane and awful health care system. It does not provide us with a Cuban or even a Canadian style system. It does not fully eliminate the possibility of household devastation given a calamitous health event. It does not erase the specter of medical debt that many low and middle class households face every day.

It sadly shies away from implementing rigid price controls as those in mighty Japan; prices controls which keep health care affordable, while still preserving a competitive and profitable health care technologies market.

It does not fully release us from a state of health care bondage that keeps Americans from starting new businesses or changing jobs; unlike powerful and economically vibrant Sweden, where even the most risky of start-ups are possible, due to a basic guarantee of health care.

It only barely offers a guarantee to the poor, who, while ensuring ample profits for the Wal Marts and the McDonalds by working for pennies, face the severest of health problems. The disproportionately poor health profiles of the poor are not free. By not providing sufficient care and wages, the Wal Marts and McDonalds of the world shift those expenses onto taxpayers, so that we effectively subsidize their enterprises. Worse yet, since we refuse to acknowledge it, we manage it inefficiently, raising costs for everyone.

Failure to provide health care to poor people (or anyone else) in an efficient and transparent manner wreaks havoc on our economy, robs governments of dollars that could be better assigned to upgrading our aging infrastructure and degrades the ability of our workforce to be productive. Yet, Republicans oppose it.

I can’t think of any rational reason outside that they might have secretly started smoking weed in their own quarters.

The Affordable Care Act falls far short of my vision of a truly inclusive and effective health care insurance scheme for America. Despite this, it is a milestone improvement to an embarrassingly poor “system.”

The government shutdown to protest the Affordable Care Act has simply left me more emotionally numb than even the attacks in Kenya. Sometimes, I try to convince myself that, under all the insane rhetoric, the American right wing is a rational beast and that they have legitimate concerns and offer reasonable solutions. If this ideological shutdown over providing negligible improvements to a failing system of health care in America is any indication, insanity has truly prevailed.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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