Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Danes Are Here Again

Three different data-based studies that rank nations according to the "happiness" of their people all agree that the two happiest nations in the world are Denmark and Costa Rica.

The studies take into account citizens' responses to poll questions evaluating their own happiness, as well as life expectancy; one study adds a third factor, environmental impact.

Obviously, climate is not a common denominator for these two sets of happy people.

But there are two very clear common denominators.  One is universal government managed health care.  The other is little or no spending on the military.

Costa Rica, which most often ranks first in the happiness surveys, has no military.  Zero.  Zilch.  Its government made a decision to eliminate its standing army and divert the money it spent on the military to education.

Denmark maintains an army. navy, air force and Home Guard.  This entire operation costs Denmark 1.5% of its GDP.  The United States, in contrast, spends nearly four times as large a percentage of its vastly greater GDP on its war machine.

In the United States, where tea party loonies and birther crazies prattle about "socialized medicine" as if it were something bad, an allegedly "liberal" President didn't even ask the Congress his party controls to consider a single-payer, universal health care system.  What he's willing to settle for is a mish-mash of regulations and wishfulness that guarantees enormously greater profits for the insurance industry and skyrocketing bonuses for its fat-cat executives.  The actual quality of medical care will continue to decline, and the actual cost to sick people will continue to rise.

No data are available as to the precise number of Americans who go to Costa Rica each year to avail themselves of one of the best health care systems in the world today.  The system is open not just to Ticos, but to any foreign resident or visitor.  Doctors and pharmacists there all say they regularly serve a number of American patients.  In 1991, a survey by economists from the University of Costa Rica documented that 14.25% of all foreign visitors came for the express purpose of receiving medical care of some type.

You don't need a prescriptions for most medications in Costa Rica, you can take up to a 90-day supply back to the U.S. with you and the cost of the medicine is about 20% of what you (and your for-profit insurer, if you have one) would pay in the United States. Foreigners can join the Costa Rican health care net (CCSS) by paying a small monthly 
fee, based on their income, or  they can buy health insurance from the state monopoly for roughly 1/100th of the cost of comparable coverage in the United States.

In Denmark,  anyone can go to a physician for no fee. Danish citizens may choose between two systems of primary health care: medical care provided free of charge by a doctor whom the individual chooses for a year and by those specialists to whom the doctor refers the patient; or complete freedom of choice of any physician or specialist at any time, with state reimbursement of about two-thirds of the cost for medical bills paid directly by the patient. Most Danes opt for the former. All patients receive subsidies on pharmaceuticals and vital drugs. Total health care expenditure is 8.4% of GDP.

Health care costs the United States just over 16% of GDP.  A 2009 Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health found more than 44,800 preventable deaths annually in the United States among Americans lacking health insurance.

Rush Limblow to the contrary notwithstanding, the only large industrialized nations that come close to matching the health care in Denmark and Costa Rica are Japan and France.  You know what the right wingnuts say about France!

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