With his surprising vote to uphold the core of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts may have salvaged the legitimacy of his court. A lopsided majority of Americans has come to see the court as just another partisan institution, according to a recent poll, and the chief justice probably doesn’t want that as his legacy.
Whatever his reasons, Roberts did his country a great service by paving the way to universal health care. Until Congress passed “Obamacare” in 2010, the United States had remained alone among industrialized Western nations in its failure to institute a health care system that was really, well, a system.
Every other major Western democracy has a system in which all citizens have access to health care, whether provided by the state (Great Britain) or through a combination of public and private insurers (Germany). And all of those countries have better health outcomes — measured in statistics such as life span and infant mortality — than the United States. No matter how many times that a conservative argues that this country offers the best health care system in the world, it’s just not true.
Yes, you’ve heard news accounts of wealthy Arab potentates and deathly ill dictators coming to this country for this or that procedure because they believe the medical care in the United States is top-notch. And, at some hospitals, it certainly is. There’s no doubt that the U.S. offers cutting-edge research, advanced pharmaceuticals and world-class medical innovations. Unfortunately, many Americans cannot afford them.
A medical care system should be judged by the quality it offers to the majority of citizens; on that score, the U.S. is hardly the best. In this country, life expectancy is 78.2 years. In Germany, it’s 79.4; in Great Britain, it’s 80.5; and in Switzerland, it’s 82, according to statistics compiled by the United Nations. And that’s despite the fact that Americans spend so much more on health care. It’s money that is not well-spent.