Let's start with the obvious. US expenditures on health care are the highest in human history. And yet, we're not nearly as healthy as many countries that spend less. The undeniable conclusion is that we are remarkably bad at investing our wealth in a way that makes Americans healthy. That's not to say that we are incapable of making good decisions. For example, we managed to put fluoride in public water sources, which has been good for the country's health. Of course, that's not a recent achievement.
On the other hand, the Senate Finance committee just managed to vote for a $50 million continuation of "abstinence" sex education programs. Oxymoron aside, there is a substantial body of empirical evidence that such education does not improve public health outcomes -- like reductions in teen pregnancy; it does, however, lead healthy teenagers to experiment with many other sexual practices prior to having good old-fashioned, unsafe sex. (When they get around to intercourse, they are less likely to use condoms.)
Money spent on abstinence education is a waste, except for those pandering to please a minority of citizens who do tend to vote consistently. That's why leaving our individual and collective health in the hands of people like Senator Max Baucaus of Montana seems ill advised -- no pun intended. Despite representing a state with virtually no pharmaceutical or insurance industry presence, the good Senator receives more campaign contributions from those industries than anyone else in Congress. And while he may claim that neither group influences him, I'm quite certain that their respective lobbyists would disagree.
That's why health care reform is too important to leave to Congress: politicians and their longevity depends upon self-interested corporate donors. The result is abstinence education instead of a public option.
What we need are public health experts who are rewarded for devising and implementing plans that make all US citizens healthier and less likely to need the products and services that the pharmaceutical and current medical establishment profit from. Yes, that would mean more government bureaucrats, which could be bad, but it would make for less Baucus and insurance industry bureaucrats, which would be good.
Follow Michael B. Laskoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbilTo