Ignorance is Costly

It seemed like a good idea at the time, that is, having the bumper sticker that says “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” We never should have offered them a choice.

Ignorance isn’t just expensive, it’s a killer. Look at healthcare financing: Under the old system, millions of people didn’t have health insurance from either public plans that cover the very poor or the elderly, didn’t have private insurance through their jobs, and didn’t have the money to buy a policy. With the millions of people affected, some made it to Medicare age without much trouble, but others got sick, and the costs were more than they could ever hope to afford. Some lost their homes, others lost their lives.

The Obama administration made a number of mistakes – one of which was placing political amity before education. It would have been difficult to educate the country about macroeconomics and efficient healthcare financing, but there wasn’t even an attempt. Instead, the 2009 stimulus package was too small and too focused on tax cuts. This may have appeased the Republicans, but, while it kept things from getting worse, failed to produce job growth. In retrospect, that was the critical error that lead to the Republican win in 2010.

From there, the administration moved on to health care, again without trying to control the discussion or explain the realities of finance first. The Affordable Health Care Act focused on providing coverage to the maximum number of people without trying to make significant cuts in the costs of care. What was needed was a sincere effort to educate the public on the benefits of a single payer plan, and why Canadians pay less and live longer than the recipients of what John Boehner has called “the best healthcare system in the world.”

According to the World Health Organization, the United States ranks 37% in the world for quality of care while spending 16% of the gross domestic product on health.

In contrast, Japan and Finland get better results at expenditures of about 8%, and much maligned Canada has longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates for 10% of its GDP. It was foolish to attempt legislation without showing what was at stake, and so we got the Affordable Healthcare Act, which, while better than nothing, surrendered even a demonstration program of single payer.

Like broken-hearted lovers, progressives wandered off, thinking that sooner or later they would come to their senses and return to us, just because of the money.

If a country is serious about reducing healthcare costs, the first step is to cut administrative costs, eliminating duplication and multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs and COBs.

The second step is to develop cost effective treatment protocols, do the research to find out what works and what doesn’t. According to the CIA, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 6.06 deaths within the first year of life per 1000 live births, while Canada’s rate is 4.92 and Sweden has only 2.74 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The CIA says “This (infant mortality) rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.” Those people who are supportive of the Right to Life should consider the deaths of these infants (and perhaps require a 3-day waiting period before anybody is allowed to vote Republican?) South Korea, 4.16, Italy 3.38, Japan 2.78.

All the known facts point to the benefits of a single payer system – lower costs and better results – but instead of reconsidering the best way to pay for health care, we’re faced with the Paul Ryan proposal to dismantle the parts of healthcare financing that work well. Spending wisely means spending less, but the reverse doesn’t apply. Republicans object to single-payer because it’s government interference in health care, and that’s socialist – or something. That’s a smoke screen that benefits the insurance companies, and nobody and nothing else.

The issue isn’t government interference in health care – it’s saving the lives of babies and cutting the deficit, and making anybody who objects to those two goals explain why insurance company profits are more important than an infant’s life and the nation’s future.

We should never have given them a choice, because ignorance kills.

Sam Uretsky is a pharmacist on Long Island, N.Y. Email him at

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2011

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