This week, the Washington Post reports that, even in some countries with lesser standards of living than the US, access to medical care surpasses ours. In Thailand, only 1% of the population lacks health insurance. The Mexican government created a safety net to insure 50 million people who are not covered by existing plans.
And in former communist countries, the urge to capitalize medical treatment that followed the fall of the Soviet system has been replaced by a social-service sensibility:
Two decades ago, many former communist countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere dismantled their universal health-care systems amid a drive to set up free-market economies. But popular demand for insurance protection has fueled an effort in nearly all of these countries to rebuild their systems. Similar pressure is coming from the citizens of fast-growing nations in Asia and Latin America, where rising living standards have raised expectations for better services.
In the US, about 50 million people have no health insurance, roughly 16% of the population. This percentage rises for the poor: a 2009 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 45% of low-income Americans under the age of 65 have no health insurance. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 will reduce these numbers — but we won’t know until next month whether the Supreme Court will find some or all of it unconstitutional.
Even if the ACA stands, it doesn’t abolish for-profit insurance companies (or constrain their power much), and its direct effects on the costs of medical diagnosis and treatment remain to be seen — so while more Americans will have insurance, some will continue to be unable to pay for some of their care.
Big question: why is the US different from Thailand, Mexico, or China? What makes the idea of universal access to medical treatment so complicated for us when it seems to be increasingly simple for countries that have lesser GDPs?