After weeks of speculation and a secretive process that frustrated politicians on both sides of the aisle, Senate Republican leaders released a draft of their long-awaited healthcare legislation on Thursday.
Beyond Republicans’ sweeping attempt to overhaul the system, healthcare has been hotly debated in the US for years.
And it’s not hard to see why: Americans spend more on healthcare than residents of any other developed nation on the planet, yet lack virtually every possible measure of a clean bill of health that would justify it. Americans don’t live very long, they’re not very happy, and many of their health outcomes continue to differ starkly along racial and socioeconomic lines.
What’s going so wrong?
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) summed it up nicely in its latest report on health in the US in 2015, citing two factors as the main culprits for our relatively low life expectancy:
1. Rising obesity and alcohol consumption
Obesity rates around the world are on the rise, but according to a comprehensive study published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, they’re rising faster and more significantly in the US than in any other country.
2. A highly-fragmented US healthcare system
Some of the most notable issues plaguing the US healthcare system include its failure to properly treat people with chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, its failure to provide coverage for low-income people and people of colour, its dismal vaccination rates, and the soaring cost of life-saving drugs.
Americans with chronic diseases like asthma end up in the hospital more frequently than they do in other OECD countries. In most developed countries, chronic disease sufferers are more likely to receive the preventive medicine that would help stave off a potentially life-threatening scenario. They’re also more likely to be treated by primary care doctors rather than having to have their problems addressed by emergency physicians.
While life expectancy in the US is still increasing, it is doing so at a slower pace than in many other developed countries. Life expectancy also varies significantly by skin colour in America. In 2009, the average black American could expect to live to just 75, the same life expectancy white Americans enjoyed 30 years earlier in 1979. Today, black Americans remain far more likely than white Americans to die from cancer and diabetes, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to these obstacles, Americans vaccinate their children at lower rates than many other developed countries, which can lead to outbreaks of diseases like measles and Hepatitis B.
Last, the US’s life-saving pharmaceutical drugs cost a fortune. Unlike other countries, whose governments regularly haggle with drug companies to reduce drug prices, US Medicare is forbidden from engaging in such negotiations. As a result, Americans pay hundreds to thousands more for their medications than people in other countries pay for the exact same pills.
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