Ezra Klein has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times arguing for the inevitability of universal health care in the U.S. "The realization that our illogical, mistaken healthcare system can't go on forever has dawned," he writes, "and so it will end. The question now is what replaces it."
I'm not sure that realization has dawned everywhere, but I do think we've reached a point at which a critical mass of the American middle class understands the system is seriously bleeped and is willing to listen to options. Unfortunately the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy still has a tight enough grip on news media that it is damn near impossible to have the dispassionate national discussion on health care we need to be having. As soon as the phrase "universal health care" leaves anyone's lips, you can count on a right-wing goon to be standing nearby to shout it down. Thanks to the VRWC, all the average person knows about other nations' health care systems is that there are waiting lines in Canada.
The fact is that the U.S. is the only industrialized democracy on the planet that doesn't provide its citizens with some kind of universal health care system, and they do so at less cost per capita than the byzantine U.S. system. Ezra writes,
Indeed, in 2002, we spent $5,267 per capita on healthcare — $1,821 more than Switzerland, the nearest runner-up. And yet we had higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, more price inflation and an actual uninsured population, a phenomenon virtually unknown in the rest of the developed world, where universal healthcare is, well, universal.
I recommend this paper (PDF file) by the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine on the U.S. health care system. It's short -- eight pages-- but it argues clearly and starkly that the U.S. does not have the best health care system in the world, only the most expensive.
There are several dozen other nations that have had a universal health care system in place for many years, and we should be looking at all of them to see what works, and what doesn't. Back in the spring of 2005 Ezra wrote a series of blog posts explaining how some other nations provide universal health care for their citizens -- see, for example, his post on France -- that provides a good start.