03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Fact That Ends the Health Care Debate

The main victim in the health care debate so far seems to be the truth. Opinions and hyperbole are in plentiful supply, but some publicly available and verifiable facts are quite stunning.

You probably are well aware that the US spends more in total on health care per person than any other developed nation. But that is far from the whole truth. About 45% of the health care tab is currently paid by the US government. That money goes to assist only a portion of the US population, especially those receiving Medicare. Every other developed country has government-sponsored health insurance for all of its citizens, so-called "socialized" medicine. Yet the US government, right now and prior to any new health care legislation or spending, spends more on a per person basis for health care than the government of every other developed nation save Norway, which somehow manages to spend just a bit more than we do. That's government spending, mind you. It doesn't count private spending on health care, which is substantial in every other nation but which is absolutely huge in the United States. Here are some numbers:

Public expenditure on health per capita, in US Dollars
Australia $2,266
Canada 2,726
France 2,844
Germany 2,758
Japan 2,097*
Switzerland 2,618
United Kingdom 2,446
United States 3,307

(*2006 data)
Source: OECD 2007 data, purchasing power parity basis

The OECD put it quite well in a 2009 report.

For this amount of expenditure in the United States, government provides insurance coverage only for the elderly and disabled (through Medicare, which primarily insures persons aged 65 and over and people with disabilities) and some of the poor (through Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP), whereas in most other OECD countries this is enough for government to provide universal primary health insurance.

These facts leave little room for further debate. The US could install any other system (save Norway's, which costs a bit more) and give everyone a check. For example if we simply duplicated the British system, every man, woman and child in the US could take home an $800 refund. Anybody who argues that that government sponsored health care is expensive has to face the facts. A move to a government funded system would demonstrably result in lower, not higher, costs. And with that left over cash, people who aren't satisfied with government-paid care are perfectly free to spend what they have left over on exactly the same insurance and treatment they do today. Or not.

And by the way, that vaunted "reform" legislation we have been so long expecting? It calls for more spending, not less. And it doesn't even come close to universal primary insurance. Any takers?

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