The United States spends more on health care than any country in the world (twice as much per capita as comparable countries), spends far more on medical research, and yet does not have a healthy population -- in fact, the opposite is true. One reason -- I'm scared to tell HuffPo readers -- is that we conduct health care policy by celebrities, including some of their favorites. Both our economy and our health care are damaged by our inability to sensibly allocate limited health care resources.
In 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study of the comparative health of middle-aged people in England and the United States. It found that -- despite spending twice as much on health care for each individual -- Americans had more of every disease and disorder than the English (e.g., about twice as much diabetes and cancer). Although the study was conducted to show the advantages of wealth and social status, the most privileged Americans were about on a par with the poorest English people. And nobody believes we are emotionally healthier than the English and other Europeans, even though we outspend them by more in that area.
Our unique combination of enormous health care outlays and unhealthiness derives in good part from our unhealthy lifestyle, which in turn results from our privilege and feeling that we and our children should have everything we want; from our protectionism towards our kids, where we prefer they remain indoors rather than risk the onslaughts of an alien environment outside; from an over-reliance on medical technology and health care, rather than taking responsibility for our own health.
At another level, we cannot make tough decisions about health. Michael Moore's Sicko (I love Michael Moore) made the argument that all people are entitled to every form of health care whenever they want them. That's nice, but what if these treatments are unproven and ultimately prove useless or, worse, harmful further down the line? What if -- since even our profligate country has constraints on how much we spend -- giving treatments with dubious payoffs to some means we provide less of more reliable forms of care for others? Americans, when presented with someone who is hurting, say, "Do everything you can -- spare no expense" - although, of course, they would think differently if someone told them it meant less care for themselves and their children.
And we suffer because we listen to celebrities tell us what we should be spending our health care dollars on. (Uh-oh, here's where I get in trouble.) Have you noticed lately (how could you not) the national awareness campaign for women, The Heart Truth, produced by the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)? Why is it that women have to be educated that they are far more likely to die of heart disease than anything else (almost ten times as common a cause of death as breast cancer)? One reason is those years of pink ribbons and promotion of the risks of breast cancer by all those celebrities. I still remember an interview with the magnificent Christine Lahti, who played a doctor on Chicago Hope, in which she lectured that breast cancer was the number one killer of women. (Breast cancer is not even the most common cause of cancer fatalities -- lung cancer kills several times as many women.)
I watched on Morning Joe as the beautiful (both inside and outside) Susan Axelrod, wife of David (everyone's favorite political operative), proselytized for more money for the care of and research on epilepsy, from which her and David's daughter unfortunately suffers. How could your heart not go out for their family? NBC's medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, meanwhile intoned that not enough was being done in research on epilepsy and other "broad-spectrum" neurological disorders. Is this true? Or, to put it another way, should TV appearances by influential individuals be the way we make this decision? I'll just leave it at that.
Except, because I can't avoid trouble, I'll point out that the HuffPo has been a principal outlet for the argument that there is a gigantic plot to foist mercury (thimerosal)-based vaccines on children even though they have been proven to cause autism (these forms of vaccine are no longer employed, and autism has maintained its alarmingly high levels everywhere they have been discontinued). In recent weeks this position has been forcefully argued in HuffPo by that incredible environmentalist, Deirdre Imus, and by everyone's favorite combatant against corporate miscreants, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In making this argument, they must not only attack that old standby, big pharma (which I rail against for wholesaling psychiatric meds for children), but also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the prestigious (non-government) Institute of Medicine (IOM) -- both of which politely, but staunchly, declare these celebrities are full of soup.
Imus, Kennedy, and supporters whose children suffer with autism do not react well to disputations of their views. Let me quote Messers. Kennedy and Kirby on these pages:
Even as the evidence connecting America's autism epidemic to vaccines mounts, dead-enders at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) -- many of whom promoted the current vaccine schedule and others with strong ties to the vaccine industry -- are trying to delay the day of reckoning by creating questionable studies designed to discredit any potential vaccine-autism link and by derailing authentic studies.
Their argument contrasts, dare I say, with the Federal Claims Court's decision on February 12, which evaluated the scientific evidence against vaccines in a case brought by the parents of autism-sufferers. Special Master George Hastings declared for the Court: "The numerous medical studies concerning these issues, performed by medical scientists worldwide, have come down strongly against the petitioners' contentions." The Court was clear on the relative merits of the medical research brought to bear by each side: "It was abundantly clear that petitioners' theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive." Meanwhile, according to an investigation by the Sunday Times of London, the British physician who first announced a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism falsified data to make his case.
I know, DHHS -- the U.S. government body which contested the parents' claims -- is saddled with Bush leftovers and has been propagandized by researchers funded by big pharma, in league with the CDC and IOM. But, we have to bet on one point of view. And the anti-vaccination position is one fraught with consequences, as critical mass is reached on the reappearance of long-suppressed childhood illnesses like measles. "Hopefully, the determination by the special masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism," DHHS declared following the decision. Deirdre and Bob -- are you so sure you're right that you're willing to cause outbreaks of measles, meningitis, and other childhood maladies, potentially fatal and crippling as these are?