The Plank

Earth To Mccain: Universal Health Care Actually Works

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If you've heard John McCain talk about health care lately, then you've heard him suggest that Democratic plans for universal health insurance would lead to long waits, higher costs, inferior care, etc.--since that's what they get in Europe.

As I've mentioned before, one of the many, many flaws with this argument is that the people in those countries don't seem to agree. Their systems have problems--some more than others--but overall people in the larger, more advanced European countries seem more content with their health insurance arrangements than most Americans are with theirs.

Today's news brings yet more evidence of this. On behalf of the International Herald Tribune and France 24 television, Harris Interactive surveyed people in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The findings? Four out of five Americans say the system needs fundamental changes or a complete overhaul--the highest of all the countries surveyed.

Just to be clear, the number of dissatisfied people was pretty high in most of the countries. But in the other countries, it's more people calling for "fundamental changes" rather than a "complete rebuilding." And, having just spent some time in these countries, I suspect a lot of that is concern over long-term financing. They want to sustain what they have--and are worried that, given medical care's escalating costs, they will have trouble doing so in the future. It's a valid concern but, of course, one that only makes their systems look even better relative to ours, since they already spend far less than we do.

In any event, the citizens of one country actually did seem pretty satisfied with their health care system. That country is France. But this is hardly surprising. People who follow health care closely--like Ezra Klein, Victor Rodwin, and, yes, me--have been talking up the French system for a while. French national health insurance offers convenience, a high level of services, plus universal coverage--again, all at a significantly lower price tag than in the U.S. The system is far from perfect, but, overall, it seems like a far better deal than what we give our citizens.

--Jonathan Cohn 

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