OTHER NATIONS' OPTIONS
The U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that does not guarantee minimum health care to every single citizen. We spend far more per capita than any other nation, approaching twice the percentage of Gross National Product than France and Canada, which are in second place in costs, U.S. 14.6% to their 8%, and they have universal health care. And we are the only nation that actively excludes natural medicine. In measurement of the nations’ healthcare statistics, we don’t fare well-25th in infant mortality, 15th in overall healthcare according to comparative studies by the World Health Organization.
Comparing Other Countries’ Health Care
Comparing US healthcare to other industrialized nations will tell one perspective, but the USA pales when compared to nations with a tiny fraction of our resources. China has a per capita income of $350 and spends just $38 per person annually on medical care compared to $3,000 in the US. Yet, in New York City 10.8 infants out of 1,000 die before their first birthday; in Shanghai the rate is only 9.9. Life expectancy in Shanghai is 75.5 years, compared to a life expectancy in NYC of 73 years for white and 70 years for people of color. Only four in every 100,000 males under age 65 in China dies of heart disease each year, compared to 67 in every 100,000 Americans. The American death rate for breast cancer is five times the rate in China. 1 , 2
The United Nations has determined that the single most continuously reliable variable in measuring a nation’s well-being is the socioeconomic status and education of its women. The state of Kerala in southern India, with 30 million population or roughly the size of California, is an example of the success of a society due to its commitment to women. This State has achieved universal health care and education and a birth rate as low as any nation in the world–on a per capita income of $365, one-sixteenth of the poverty level in the United States. Fertility rates, life expectancy, and literacy rates stand beside those of North America, far ahead the much poorer rates of the nation state, India. Female literacy is 86 percent and climbing, and 90 percent of the electorate votes! (Perhaps exercising our vote is the difference between women of Kerala and America!)
The U. S. vs. Canada
The most common comparison of the US healthcare system is with our northern neighbor, Canada. The General Accounting Office, an independent body of the US government, concluded in a study of the Canadian health system, what many had long suspected, that the administrative savings of a single-payer system are astronomical. “If the universal coverage and single-payer features of the Canadian system were applied in the United States, the savings in administrative costs alone would be more than enough to finance insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured. There would be enough left over to permit a reduction, or possibly even the elimination, of copayments and deductibles…” 3
For three to four percent of its Gross National Product (total output of a nation’s economy) Singapore provides universal coverage for preventative healthcare and serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization. If the patient elects to see a specialist, she pays for it out of her own pocket, which keeps doctors’ prices lower because the consumer is comparing fee schedules. The Singapore system places much of the responsibility for one’s own health and well being on the individual, which is where it should be.
“A great many therapies that are considered experimental in America are in fact considered mainstream medicine abroad. This is true among countries that are equally advanced in science and medicine, including Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan,” reports Kenneth Pelletier, M.D. in The Best Alternative Medicine.
Homeopathy is the most common medicine in Europe: 39 percent of French doctors and 20 percent of German doctors prescribe homeopathic medicines (a prescription is not necessary for many doses). More than 40 percent of British general practitioners refer patients to homeopathic doctors, and 45 percent of Dutch physicians consider homeopathy effective. The top-selling flu remedy in France is a homeopathic medicine; Oscillococcinum® has been used by millions of people in 43 countries for 65 years.
The physicians of Europe are trained in the healing arts in medical schools; this is in contrast to the emphasis on usage of pharmaceutical drugs in US medical schools. In Europe acupuncture is primarily practiced by medical doctors who learned the methods in medical schools and hospitals. A three-year advanced degree is required in France for practicing acupuncture, and in Germany 77 percent of pain clinics use acupuncture. In Europe, medical board exams include knowledge of natural therapies.
The U. S. vs. the World
There is a fundamental difference in approach to medicine and health between the US and the rest of the world. The American attitude is to view disease as a hostile invasion by foreign bodies, whether viruses or bacteria or whatever. Our response is to “attack the invader”, declare “war on (any disease)”. In other words, ours is an aggressive response which puts emphasis on the disease. This is shown by the reliance on pharmaceutical drugs to stop the symptoms and the use of invasive procedures three to eight times more frequently than in Europe and Canada–and with similar patient outcomes. 4 The U.S. approach might more accurately be called disease-care rather than healthcare.
A stark contrast to the American approach is that of the French. France’s medical community focus on the terrain, or the vitality of the body, and choose therapies and treatments to strengthen the terrain. If the body’s vitality is strong it will not succumb to illness or the terrain needs strengthening to overcome illness. The emphasis is on the terrain, not the disease as invader. The French choose gentle therapies such as natural medicines, nutritional supplements, and rest to restore the terrain. When they do use pharmaceuticals, they choose lower dosages and shorter courses (5 days instead of 10) This orientation toward shoring up the terrain has put French scientists and physicians in the lead in fields such as immunotherapy for cancer and AIDS.
Recognizing that over 50 percent of its population is using homeopathy, herbal medicine, and other natural healing therapies, Canada established the Office of Natural Health Products in March 1999. “Natural health products (NHPs) have become an extremely important part of our self-care decisions…Canadians from all walks of life have made it clear that they want freedom of choice in making health decisions. They want enhanced access and choice to a full range of natural health products, along with an assurance of safety and quality,” reports the website of the Natural Health Products Directorate for Canada’s government. (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb/onhp, 7/225/02) This new department monitors the safety of natural health products and issues advisories to the populace as needed.
In a June 2002 advisory, Health Canada warned Canadians not to use seven herbal supplements marketed as Traditional Chinese Medicines; these products manufactured in the United States contain undeclared prescription drugs that could cause serious health effects if not taken under medical supervision. The US government offers negligible regulation in the manufacture, processing, or (helpful) labeling of supplements and herbs.
Tenets of Self-Care:
- My natural state is Wellness, a balance of exercise and relaxation for my body, mind, and spirit.
- “I am what I eat.” Grandma was right. I listen to my body and eat only wholesome foods and no more than I need to maintain Wellness.
- With any medicine I take, I am an experiment of one, and I am the only one that matters.
- As the sole resident in this body, I am the one responsible for my well-being. Only I know what’s happening in my skin, and only I bear the consequences of nurturing, neglect, or abuse.
- My body is a gift of the Divine Spirit, the only one I have in this lifetime.
1. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Christine Cox, The China Project, Ithaca, NY: New Century Nutrition, 1996
2. Jane Lii, China Booms, The World Holds Its Breath, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 18, 1996, p.27
3. Neil Rolde, Your Money or Your Health, (New York, NY: Paragon House, 1992
4. Kenneth R. Pelletier, MD, The Best Alternative Medicine, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000