06/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's Biggest Competitive Disadvantage: Its Health Care Mess

If a worker in Canada or Europe or Japan has lost his or her job this recession, it's a psychological and financial blow. But if an American worker loses his or her job, the family faces financial ruin if sickness strikes any member because they are without health care coverage. Bridge coverage is available but unaffordable for anyone but the wealthy. Worse yet, if a major illness is diagnosed during unemployment, a worker becomes unemployable, bringing about a life sentence of poverty.

Little wonder, then, that consumer spending has ground to halt in the United States, which makes the economic meltdown that much harder to combat or ever solve. This underscores the fact that universal health care is not just smart and fair social policy; it is also smart economic policy.

But there are many other economic advantages to universal health care, which makes one wonder why the Republicans, conservatives and business interests haven't been pushing for it. Instead, they are gearing up for a battle against President Obama which is, frankly, acting against their own best long-term interests. Here are the economic advantages to decent, universal health care:
1. The U.S. spent 16.2% of its GDP on health care plus up to 3% more on litigation concerning medical bills while other countries spend 10% and nothing on litigation because bills are paid by everyone. This is America's number one competitive disadvantage going forward.
2. People with serious illnesses are uninsurable and are stuck in jobs they cannot leave or remain unemployed because they are unemployable.
3. Tens of millions of uninsured people in the U.S. end up with health problems that become a drain on the society and economy in the long run.
4. Doctor, nursing, hospital and drug costs are out of control in the U.S. because of the profit motive, compared to countries where universal health care provides the basic underpinning. (By the way, in Canada only 50% of total health care expenditures are covered by governments and the rest by individuals such as eyewear, dental or elective surgeries.) U.S. costs are higher because doctors can over-service those with health insurance, and patients can over-demand. Litigation also leads to over-doctoring (too many tests or too many days in hospitals) as well as high expenses in the form of malpractice insurance, an overhead which, in comparison, is negligible in Canada or Europe.
5. Detroit's three automobile companies have gone bust in large measure due to "legacy" or gold-plated health care promises at America's excessive prices that made that were unaffordable. This is not unique to the auto sector and has driven many jobs offshore in manufacturing.

Canada has a better health care system than does America. So do Europe and Japan. Even developing nations, such as Ecuador or Mexico, look after all the basic needs of their populations better than America looks after its hard-working citizens.

As an American living in Canada, I find it embarrassing that America -- rich and smart -- has such a mediocre health care system. I find it embarrassing that even educated and financially astute Americans buy the lies that the AMA and others spew about Canada and other "socialized" medical schemes.

Facts are that governments in the U.S. are suckers. They cover the high-risk populations -- indigent, elderly and veterans -- and leave the gravy to the private-sector health insurers. These companies, by the way, make profits off their operations which are the same size as Canada's entire health care tab for 32 million people.

It's pretty shameful, but delusions persist and the medical myth-makers are girding for battle. But Americans are capable of skepticism and change and deep down most realize that their health care system is sick, maybe terminal, and needs treatment as soon as possible.