This graph, created a few months ago by National Geographic and reprinted today by Boing Boing has been bending my brain all afternoon (click for full size, better yet, click the link above to go to the original Boing Boing posting):
Now, it's no shock to anyone reading this that the United States is paying approximately sixty percent more per person per year than the next closest country on the graph and enjoying a far worse result, if we define "worse result" as life expectancy. That's how I would define it, but these days I think a fair number of people believe our health care system is a success because it's "not socialist," which is a bit like me deciding I'm a success in life because I'm not Kirk Cameron. There may be some merit to both arguments, but really, we're not using any logical metric for "success" in either case. I also think Americans' willingness to accept more expensive and less effective care is indicative of a deep seated paranoia in our culture - we're willing to pay more to make sure that we're not the one who gets stuck on one of those waiting lists somebody told us that they have some place in Europe. That's a post for another day, though.
No, what struck me the most about that graph is how clearly it demonstrates that we are paying more than any other civilized nation on Earth for health care that we don't even use. If you haven't clicked on the full sized version of the graph, do so now. The density of each line on the graph indicates how many times per year that an average citizen in a given country visits the doctor. Apparently, here in America we see the doctor so infrequently that our annual visits barely make it into the low single digits. What the hell?
Part of this may be our good old fashioned Yankee willingness to "walk it off." Lord knows I'm guilty of that more often than not. (I've always thought of Monty Python's quadruple amputee black night threatening to "bite your legs off" as uniquely American.) Another factor might be the large numbers of uninsured we have here in the US. Thirty million people who can't afford to see the doctor at all are going to skew your averages a bit. But let's face it: the bulk of us aren't going to the doctor because it costs a shitload of money, we know that if the doctor finds something serious we're screwed, and honestly, even in a best-case scenario, dealing with insurance companies is a royal pain in the ass.
Our "greatest healthcare system in the world" has become a white elephant. Thai emperors would bestow white elephants on nobility who had displeased them. Outwardly, bestowing such a gift seemed like a sign of the emperor's favor, but soon the nobility who had been so blessed found themselves going broke trying to take care of the damned thing. They suffered, and the emperor continued to enjoy a reputation for justice and generosity.
Who saddled us with this white elephant, and what the hell did we ever do to them?
(Hat tip to guy in milwaukee at The Crack Den. Stole Monty Python image from here.)