High and urgent on the new Democratic-controlled Congress' agenda, as it should be, is health care for Americans—coverage for those without health insurance and better delivery of care for those who have it.
This is no small challenge. Health care is a $1.6 trillion industry, some 16 percent of the gross domestic product.
And yet it continues to shock the American conscience that some 46 million do not have any health insurance and despite boasts of being the world's best health provider industry, we are not.
"The United States is twice as expensive with about the same outcome" as other countries, says Professor Gerard Anderson, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Estimates are that 20 percent to 31 percent of all costs are for overhead, paperwork and administration, not for health care.
In the United States, delivery costs $6,012 per person versus $3,165 in Canada, $3,159 in France, $3,120 in Australia and $2,508 in Britain.
The key to lowering delivery costs and thus providing actual health care lies in adopting the single-payer system used by other countries and to eliminate bloated bureaucracy, removing the Bush administration's prohibition on the government negotiating lower drug prices and instigating tough auditing of health providers to crack down on overcharging and outright fraud.
The health of a nation is a measure of government's true worth to its citizens. To those who question whether generous health care can be afforded, they should be forcefully reminded that Congress is authorizing $8 billion per month for the war in Iraq with no improved chances of victory.