That’s what we learn from the overwhelming response to Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Health care reformers should, by all means, address the anxieties of middle-class Americans, their growing and justified fear of finding themselves uninsured or having their insurers deny coverage when they need it most. But reformers shouldn’t focus only on self-interest. They should also appeal to Americans’ sense of decency and humanity.
What outrages people who see “Sicko” is the sheer cruelty and injustice of the American health care system — sick people who can’t pay their hospital bills literally dumped on the sidewalk, a child who dies because an emergency room that isn’t a participant in her mother’s health plan won’t treat her, hard-working Americans driven into humiliating poverty by medical bills.
“Sicko” is a powerful call to action — but don’t count the defenders of the status quo out. History shows that they’re very good at fending off reform by finding new ways to scare us. ...
Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result — but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.
Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries — even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.
Yes, Canadians wait longer than insured Americans for elective surgery. But over all, the average Canadian’s access to health care is as good as that of the average insured American — and much better than that of uninsured Americans, many of whom never receive needed care at all. ...
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs — here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.
What is it that our fellow citizens, almost uniquely among the people of the world, can't seem to get about this? It isn't that hard. What is wrong with us?