Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Great' American Health Care System Isn't Cutting It On Life Span


This just in -- the U.S. is now ranked 42nd among the world's nations in life span. How can this be happening in a country that spends so much on medicine, the most worldwide per capita? It's a paradox: When it comes to insurance, less isn't more; but when it comes to medication, less can indeed be more. And, we need news media that will actually report on the problem rather than essentially shill for the medical/drug establishment.

To get the stats out of the way, this is from the Associated Press report:

Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands. ...

A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier, according to international numbers provided by the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Andorra, a tiny country ... between France and Spain, had the longest life expectancy, at 83.5 years ... It was followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore. ...

Researchers said several factors have contributed to the United States falling behind other industrialized nations. A major one is that 45 million Americans lack health insurance, while Canada and many European countries have universal health care, they say.

OK, so far, so good. At least someone is observing that the number of uninsured Americans may have a lot to do with this. But wait, there's more. This Mainstream Media report lapses into whitewash and absurdity.

But "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," said Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal. "It's not that easy."

Among the other factors:

• Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy," said Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times."

• Racial disparities. Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans.

Black American males have a life expectancy of 69.8 years, slightly longer than the averages for Iran and Syria and slightly shorter than in Nicaragua and Morocco.

• A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.

Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004. The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia.

"It really reflects the social conditions in which African American women grow up and have children," said Dr. Marie C. McCormick, professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We haven't done anything to eliminate those disparities."

Most of the above displays an astonishing lack of critical thinking by this MSM reporter, or perhaps by editors who got hold of the piece later. The story attempts to drive some wedge between the absence of universal coverage in the U.S. and (1) racial disparities, and (2) infant mortality. A national health insurance system would do a vast amount to address these two problems. Our current system is the precise reason why many minorities do not or cannot get adequate care, when they are either old or newborn. It's the lack of insurance, stupid.

The passage points out that Cuba and most European countries have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. Guess what those countries have that we don't.

Obesity is certainly a problem in America, and one for which individuals can largely be blamed. Or can they? As decades of my life have passed, I have witnessed a socially irresponsible advertising culture that graduated from making people into two-pack-a-day cigarette addicts into junk-food junkies who wash it all down with sugary soft drinks. If one ate a steady diet of what one sees every day on TV ads, billboards, and in the urban sprawl of any given U.S. city, it's the superhighway to diabetes and heart disease.

A thing I find quite revealing and disturbing is that although the Japanese smoke twice as much as Americans -- they light up the way we did in the '60s, back when my childhood senses were ablaze with TV cigarette commercials -- they don't have nearly as much heart disease as we do, and they're living longer than us. A simple observation is that they don't have quite the same advertising culture as we do, and so they're more likely to eat fish, tofu and veggies than a bacon cheeseburger. A decent diet can actually compensate some for other kinds of vices.

Something else to consider is that, for the poor in America, a good diet is actually hard to afford. It's cheap for our poor and working class to consume a lot of starch and sugar. Even the simplest staple items like rice and pasta -- not good for diabetics -- are much cheaper than the more healthful choices. We've had a reversal of roles between rich and poor in modern America: In the bad old days, the poor were skinny because they went hungry, and the rich were plump because they had all they could eat. Now the poor eat, but it's the wrong foods, sold cheap. The rich can afford the sauteed vegetables and the catch of the day.

But, I'm recalling that Emory University professor's remarks about Americans being so soft, not having a tough lifestyle imposed on them by adversity. This seems like an absurd contradiction as well. During hard times, people have trouble eating -- at all. Good food, or bad. And life spans were much shorter then. Something tells me the professor hasn't missed many meals.

Now for an unintended consequence of living in an "affluent" society -- affluent for some, anyway. The U.S. is the most overmedicated nation ever. Our "health care system" is largely driven by the pharmaceutical companies' greed, and they are hooking people on meds every day with the same foresight and scruples as the corner dope dealer.

Statin drugs are being pushed as though half the adult population should be on them. They may do a lot for people with severe cholesterol problems, but they can have very serious side effects. I have known a number of people who have given them up, despite warnings, because they complained that they always felt like they had the flu. My mother passed out and had to be hospitalized after three days on Zocor. I took Lipitor for three days, and I think my supervisor at work suspected that I was drunk.

I have been hospitalized twice in recent years after having adverse reactions to medications. Doctors who aren't into this dope craze describe patients coming to them looking pale and wan. And wait, there's more, from a site called Health and DNA:

ADRs are the fourth to sixth greatest killer in US with more than 100,000 deaths per year; and 2.2 million serious adverse reactions per year according to a 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association report. (JAMA 279:1200 1998) This study is a meta analysis of 39 research reports published from 1966 to 1996.

21.3% of the 548 most recently FDA approved medications were subsequently withdrawn from the market or given a black box warning. (JAMA 287:2215 2002).
The GAO reports that 51% of new drugs have serious, undetected adverse effects at the time of approval.

Of the best selling prescription drugs, 148 can cause depression, 133 hallucinations or psychoses, 105 constipation, 76 dementia, 27 insomnia and 36 parkinsonism. "Worst Pills Best Pills: A Consumers Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness," third edition, 1999.

I know from the experience of being overmedicated that it's hard some days just to get out of bed under those conditions, let alone get one's regular exercise for general health and weight control.

I have yet to see Michael Moore's Sicko, but I anticipate seeing it this week. It shouldn't be hard for him to win me over. This "health care system," coupled with a predatory advertising culture, looks likely to make either my generation or the next one the first to have a lower life expectancy than our parents had. As my fellow baby boomers age and become more dependent on this broken system to get decent and well-considered care, this is clearly one of the crucial battles that Americans must win.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.


cwilcox said...

Hey Manifesto,
Enjoy Sicko. I saw it early and plan to see it often. Just today I was driving behind a beat up and dusty 97 Ford Taurus with a smokey tailpipe and bent up bumper that displayed a sticker that read, "Think health insurance is expensive now? Wait until it's free." I couldn't believe it. How are we losing this argument? From the looks of this driver there is no way they could have been doing any better than living paycheck to paycheck and yet they were all too willing to buy the neo-con spin that health coverage for everybody is a bad idea. We deserve what we get I suppose.

Marc McDonald said...

I listened to a local right-wing talk radio host here a couple of weeks ago. He spun this wild tale of having a "friend" in Canada who came down with cancer (and he said the Canadian health-care system flat-out refused to pay for his treatment). He said his friend came to the U.S., where he was promptly treated, with "outstanding, state-of-the-art" care. It was unclear who paid for this treatment. The whole tale sounded suspicious, frankly. It seemed like an awful convenient that this Rush wannabe just happened to have a friend whose supposed experiences made him a poster boy for why socialized medicine is bad.
Would a right-wing talk show host just make up such a story out of thin air as part of anti-Sicko propaganda? Does a bear shit in the woods?

Anonymous said...

Some Canadian Guy says:

Here in Canada, it's possible to refuse operations and other treatments where the patient has something potentially fatal IF the person is a smoker (and perhaps other unhealthy lifestyles). You can have a heart attack and they won't treat you if you're a smoker. Actually, that's not entirely true. Others will get ahead of you. (You often need a second heart attack before they put you on the table. In this case, smoker or not, you'll get treated). All this is because of legalities. Hospitals don't want to be sued for treating someone that has much higher risks of dying. Knowingly doing so is even worse because they get punitive damages slapped on. So it's not the health care system that's the problem. It's the legal system. (Basically, if you're gonna die anyways, then they're in the clear operating on you to try and save your life.) And we even have many laws against suing doctors and people who try to help, so the legal aspects are really messed up.

Still, I like that I can walk into an emergency room, clinic or hospital any time and anywhere in the country and be treated without a dime in my pocket. Heck, I can even call an ambulance. I don't even know if I have to sign my name a lot of times. I just show my card and even without they'll still treat you if you really need it.

I just think of when things break down... like your car. It's nice when others help you out. Maybe it's giving you a drive to the gas station. Maybe it's lending a jack. Same thing when you're hurt, you need other people's help. If there's a system that should be built around others helping you in times of need, it's health care.