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Health Costs and Healthcare in the US and Italy

Monday, February 11, 2013

Author: 
Ann Steeves
Monday, February 11, 2013

The cost of healthcare is a huge issue on the national stage as the United States tries to come to terms with its overwhelming state of national debt. Concern is growing especially among young people who will be given the task of dealing with the mounting debt. The nation’s debt comes from many sources, but healthcare is a big contributor. Healthcare costs exceed nearly 20% of U.S. GDP; a staggering estimated $2 trillion annually. The US Council on Foreign Relations reported in 2012 that the US spends the greatest percentage of GDP on health care than any other developed nation. One may expect such high costs to be responsible for a successful health care system and high rates of good health. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. So why is our country spending so much and not yielding top results? It makes sense to look to other countries to discover how their health systems work.

I had the opportunity to study abroad last semester in Italy with the UNH EcoGastronomy program. The World Health Organization has ranked Italy’s healthcare system second best in the world, after France— so what is Italy doing right? Italy operates a government sponsored healthcare system, where all citizens are granted equal access to healthcare. The Ministry of Health’s official website states, “The Italian Republic safeguards health as a fundamental right of the individual and as a collective interest, and guarantees free medical care to the indigent.” With a national health care card, citizens are able to visit a doctor without paying any fees. Granted, the funding comes from higher taxes among the populace compared to the average U.S. citizen.

One of the core-founding principals of Italy’s health care is human dignity. This alone may exemplify a key difference from Italian society to ours; Italians are very proud of their culture and value their community. I noticed a huge sense of pride and honor among Italian citizens, to themselves and to their fellow citizens. As I am back in the U.S., I question how our nation’s values compare. The U.S. does not have a comprehensive national health care system, nor do we have any legislation in place that defines a citizen’s right to healthcare. Barack Obama told Tom Brokaw that he thought health care should be a right for all Americans in a 2008 presidential debate. A recent article by Micah Uetricht in The Nation, highlights the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer conference, where activists gathered to discuss health care reform. Dudzic stated, “In the US, health care is not a right, it’s a business—the biggest, most profitable business in the history of capitalism.” Is our nation too concentrated on capitalism to address the core issue of health and well being for all citizens, regardless of their ability to pay? 

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