Why the U.S. Health Care System Isn’t the Greatest in the World

A new poll finds that the more you use our health care system, the more concerned you are about the quality and cost.

A few months ago, I was a guest on Dom Giordano’s radio show on 1210 WPHT, where I wrestled with him and several callers over America’s health care system. They all swore up and down that the American health-care system is THE GREATEST HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD! I said it isn’t, and that anyone who thinks it is hasn’t used it much lately. I was arguing that Obamacare is a positive step forward in a system where costs are out of control; Dom and his phone-bots were screaming about death panels. Yeah, it went like that.

But now a new survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR on “What It’s Like to Be Sick in America” confirms that the more experience you have with our health-care system, the more concerned about quality and costs you are. In fact, three out of four of the 1,508 respondents who have a serious medical condition or have been in a hospital within the past year said cost is a “very serious concern,” and half of them said quality was a “very serious concern.”

Of equal interest was a companion piece on NPR built on a Facebook plea it sent out, asking listeners to share their tales of being ill in America these days. They make harrowing reading: There’s a woman whose leg swelled to twice its normal size but who wouldn’t go to the emergency room because she was afraid of how much it would cost. There’s a man who got billed twice for the exact same care by two different hospitals—and had to pay. There’s a man who couldn’t afford health insurance and wound up having an eight-pound tumor removed from his kidney; he’s wracked with guilt over not being able to pay his $200,000 bill. And there’s more. As the state of American medical care stands now, 43 percent of Americans who have recently been ill wound up in serious financial trouble. That’s nearly half.

Being sick is scary. Going without health insurance—as 48 million Americans do now—is really scary. And it’s an embarrassment for a nation that wants to think of itself as the greatest nation on Earth. A great nation takes care of its less fortunate citizens—the sick children, the old and dying, those beset by catastrophic illness. A great nation is compassionate, not coldly dismissive. And a great nation doesn’t allow sick citizens to suffer in pain because they’re terrified of what a doctor will cost.

The days are ticking down to when the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the legality of Obamacare. Pundits all over the media are arguing their sides for and against the legislation. We’re heading toward interesting times indeed.