08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sleepwalking in America: Our Health Care Circus

Since America is now deciding what to do about health care, the expected blow-hards, fat-heads, and shills for various industries come out of the woodwork to warn us about socialism, high costs, lack of choice, big government, and other supposed evils of any system that would take care of the health needs of our country by reducing the profits of private interests. It's the search for profits, of course, that drives the circus. Businesses strive to maximize revenues and minimize costs, which means in the health insurance business you strive to collect as much as possible in insurance premiums while paying out as little as possible in claims. Private health insurance companies operate for private profit and not for the public good, and any statement otherwise is a blatant lie.

Also a lie is what the American public is told by private insurers and the hack media about public insurance in other countries. The truth hardly ever gets broadcast. In the current issue of the New York Review of Books (July 16, 2009), there's a letter from an Englishman named John Dean who lives in Westerham in Kent. Mr. Dean makes the following points about the British National Health Service, points that need the attention of all Americans:

1) Mr. Dean lives in a small town near London with a population of about five thousand people. The town has a National Health Service Center staffed with five doctors and a support staff.

2) Each registered patient can ask to see a doctor of his or her choice by arranged appointment.

3) When doctors prescribe drugs, the drugs can be purchased at a local drugstore for a fixed fee of about $12. Senior citizens are not charged.

4) Patients who are not satisfied with their treatment have the right to transfer to another medical center or surgery.

5) National Health Service physicians exercise complete medical control over their patients and deal with referrals to consultants for specialist advice and surgery.

6) Apart from the charge for prescribed drugs, the service is free to all patients. The UK National Health Service deals with the majority of all British citizens, but everyone has the right to opt out of the system to pay on their own for private medical advice and treatment.

Are the British crazy, or is it we Americans who are crazy? Although the United States has five times the population of the United Kingdom, it seems that Americans are about five times as gullible as their British cousins. In fact, nowhere in the industrialized world do you find people as prone to believe special interests yakking about the evils of universal health care and public health insurance. Why is that? Why do we exercise more common sense about the postal service than we do about health service? Why are we so gullible?

Frankly, I'm not optimistic that America will get the health care reform it needs. Too many people are sleep-walking through reality shows and ball games and media gossip. Like zombies, we soak up the nonsense of grinning con men. In the early 19th century, the early days of America, in most states no one was required to have a license to practice medicine. The idea, totally stupid, was that Americans were free and anyone should be free to practice medicine without a license. We haven't changed much. Our current attitude seems to be that Americans are free and anyone should be free to die in the street for lack of money to pay for health care. "Anyone can go to an emergency room," the rich boy said. Gee, thanks. Meanwhile, if certain business interests will lose too much money if we have adequate health care in America, maybe it's time those interests found another enterprise to feed their bank accounts.