Good afternoon Assemblyman Gottfried. Thank you for hearing my testimony. First, I want to acknowledge that I am not a member of the medical profession, nor am I a trained economist who has studied in depth the costs associated with our current health care system. But in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” As an American citizen, I have a civic duty to speak out against injustice and to uphold the social contract to the best of my ability. This is why I am here today.
I want to address this important issue on two distinct but interconnected levels. The first level is pragmatic and the second level is moral. The pragmatic question is straightforward. Does our current system work as well as the systems of other industrialized nations? According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the United States has the most expensive health care system in the world yet consistently under performs when compared to nations such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, and Japan. For example, the life expectancy rate in the United States is 78 years old, which is nearly four years lower than the average life span of an Italian (84). Is an American life less valuable that the life of an Italian? Americans actually live shorter life spans than people in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.
The statistics are telling in other important categories as well. The American infant mortality rate doubles that of Japan. Actually Slovenia and Cypress have lower rates than the United States.
Another example is preventative deaths per 100,000 residents. We find that the United States’ rate of 96 nearly doubles France’s 55. When looking at physicians per 1000 residents, we find that Sweden has 8x more doctors and nurses than the United States.
The American government spends $7,337 per citizen, which is more than double the amount Germany and the UK spend combined. The U.S. federal government pays just 45% of health care while nations such as Norway, Japan, and Canada exceed 70%.
Mohandas Gandhi once said: “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” Our political leaders believe that Americans deserve a health care system that is effective, cost affordable, and progressive. These same leaders also believe that our nation can meet the challenges of the 21st Century just as our allies across the globe are meeting them. Why then are they failing to deliver this kind of system to their constituents? It can’t be because single payer health coverage is economically unviable. The Physicians for a National Health Program have demonstrated that our country will save 350 billion dollars annually in preventive savings alone. (Never mind the tremendous savings in administrative overhead associated with the private insurance companies.)
Gandhi also said, “ An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” The same leaders who lift America up as a shining city on the hill (i.e., an exceptional model of democracy and justice that sets the standard for other nations to follow) are not putting these virtuous pronouncements into practice. Healthcare NOW estimates that 101,000 people have died unnecessarily in the United Sates every year for the past five years due to insurance denials or lack of insurance. (www.healthcare-now.org).
Now I wish to speak on a moral level. One of my favorite writers is the environmentalist and author Derrick Jensen. Jensen writes passionately about the way our grandchildren’s grandchildren will judge the contributions of their ancestors. According to him, our descendants will not admire our marvelous works of fiction, monumental building projects, advanced military technology, or even our pioneering space program. If our descendants do not have clean air to breath, fresh water to drink, and nutritious food to eat they will see these achievements as selfish luxuries that actually placed their lives in serious jeopardy. They will ultimately judge our generation on how well we preserved their environment. Ultimately, what will be most important to our grandchildren’s grandchildren is whether we were able to leave them a land base or not. The same is true of our health care system. All of our amazing inventions in the arts, humanities and even sciences will not matter if we leave behind a legacy of chronic illness, obesity, debilitating disease, overpopulation, and worse.
As stewards of the future we have a moral obligation to create a system that will leave our descendants not only a biosphere but also a biology that allows them an opportunity to thrive. We not only have a social contract with our fellow citizens and government today, we also have a social contract with the inhabitants of this future planet.
Concluding with yet another profound aphorism from the Mahatma, “strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
I commend the Assembly Committee on Health and pray that the “New York Health” bill will soon become a reality. Assemblyman Gottfried and other leaders are showing the indomitable will needed to make this happen. Thank you.