George B. Reed Jr.

George B. Reed Jr.

If Obamacare is repealed we will again be the only developed country without national health care. The Republicans propose to pay for low-income families’ health insurance with their usual tax cuts and "medical savings plans," whatever those are. But tell me any place or time that has ever worked.

In the spring of 1993 my wife and I took a two-week vacation to Canada and toured British Columbia and Alberta. By coincidence this was at the very same time Hillary Clinton was conducting congressional hearings on her national health care proposal. Unfortunately, Hillary’s effort tried to please everybody, wound up pleasing nobody and ultimately failed. During the hearings Republican opponents summoned Canadian witnesses who testified to the weaknesses in their own public health care system

At that time I had an employer-paid policy and had really thought very little about national health care. But I was curious about how Canadians really felt about the quality and responsiveness of their single-payer, independent-provider system. I questioned people in grocery stores, pharmacies, in lines at the bank, on tour boats, at the zoo and at the laundromat. Amazingly, I heard not one negative comment, not one. Although they reported some waiting times for elective surgery (I once waited seven weeks for an elective TURP procedure in Chattanooga), medical emergencies were handled on a timely basis.

When I asked about the reported exodus of Canadian doctors to the U.S., I learned that Canada had a surplus of medical personnel whereas the U.S. had an increasing shortage, particularly of primary care physicians and dentists. Why? Instead of a student’s qualifications, a U.S. medical education can depend on the size of the parents’ bank account or students’ willingness to mortgage their futures.

Despite the fact that we spend almost twice as much on health care as any other nation, we get comparatively poor value for our money. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. an embarrassing 31st in health care performance among developed nations in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, preventable deaths, overall access and availability, etc. Of course conservatives explain away these deficiencies and attack WHO’s competency and legitimacy. But the fact remains that our health care inadequacies are real and are a disgrace for the world’s wealthiest nation.

An economic consideration: when the cost of employer-paid health insurance is added it makes our exports less competitive. Foreign products do not include the cost of health insurance. General Motors reports they spend more per car on health insurance than on steel.

A major contributor to our bloated health care costs is the health insurance industry itself. It is the world’s most costly, wasteful and absurdly bureaucratic. These companies spend over 30% of each premium dollar on administration, advertising, lobbying and political campaign contributions. Public programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the VA are administered for a tiny fraction of what profit-driven systems spend.

No, health care is prescribed in neither the U. S. Constitution nor the Bible. But I believe it is supported by the spirit of our law and our religion. Along with food, water and shelter, health care is a basic human need, not a privilege, luxury or marketable commodity.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at