U.S. Health Care Falls Short

To the Editor:

Presidential primary voters of 2008, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains of delusion.

As Joe Conason indicated in his critique of the G.O.P.’s fear-mongering campaign tactics [“G.O.P. Tries Big Health-Care Scare,” Aug. 13], the only specter haunting America is the paucity of affordable and cost-efficient health care.

Though privatization may be paramount for the likes of George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, it is not an economic panacea—whether the issue is social security, the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or our woeful medical system. According to a World Health Organization study conducted in 2000, the United States ranked 37th among 191 nations in the area of health care.

This does not mean, however, that we must embrace the wretched command economy of the late, unlamented U.S.S.R. Uncle Joe Stalin has never been an option in America. All we require is a lot less Adam Smith, a bit more John Maynard Keynes, and a kinder, gentler and more sinewy Uncle Sam. President Harry Truman advocated such a policy in 1946.

Other advanced industrialized economies have long since followed suit. Italy is one shining example.

Some years back, while sojourning between Pisa and Rome (with a group of students in tow), I fell prey to a common middle-aged malady. Having forgotten my medication at home, I painfully staggered into the E.R. of a hospital in the Eternal City—on a Sunday, no less. Within minutes, the physician in attendance had diagnosed my problem and prescribed the proper pharmaceutical. Both the visit and the prescription were gratis.

The same medicine and diagnosis had cost me in excess of $600 in the United States. And this was with a fairly comprehensive—by American standards—medical insurance plan.

More recently, while vacationing in Castelsilano, a small village in Calabria’s Sila mountains, my mother (an elderly woman) experienced an irregular and accelerated heartbeat. The M.D. who made the nocturnal house call was a childhood friend of mine. Again, the visit was free. And his expert diagnosis uncovered a critical aspect of my mother’s health that had eluded her American cardiologist.

By the way, the World Health Organization ranked the Italian medical system as the second finest one on Earth. When it comes to the health of nations, Italy truly enjoys la dolce vita.

The question remains: Why can’t America?

Rosario Iaconis
Mineola, N.Y. U.S. Health Care Falls Short