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With All The Miracle Drugs on TV US Has Shorter Life Spans

Want to know something truly disgusting – no, sad really? With all the money that’s spent on healthcare in the US, especially on miracle drugs, the average life span in this country ranks only 26th among the worlds 36 most developed countries, otherwise known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or the OECD. That’s right, the US has shorter life spans than most of the other developed countries in the world.

What makes this so ironic is our near religious faith in the healthcare system, including the recent plethora of alleged miracle drugs. How can that be? Clearly there is a serious disconnect in this country, between the promises of medical technology and the everyday reality we deal with.

Drowning in drug and healthcare commercials

With All The Miracle Drugs on TV US Has Shorter Life Spans
With All The Miracle Drugs on TV US Has Shorter Life Spans

I’ve actually counted the number of drug and healthcare related commercials in a typical commercial sequence. On average, about one in every three or four commercials is related to healthcare, and mostly to drugs of some sort. There are now drugs to treat diseases most of us don’t even know to exist.

If taken at face value – something easy to do with TV – there’s a treatment for every medical condition that ails us. It’s a wonder that we even have illness and ailments at all anymore.

But that’s a fundamental part of the disconnect. Obviously it isn’t true – after all, we rank only 26th in longevity. Either the drugs don’t really work, or the vast majority of the people who need them can’t afford to get a hold of them.

If a Martian were to crash land on Earth, in the land known as America, he might conclude that this is a very sick civilization. And I think we can make a case for that, but not in the sense that you might think.

Money is no object – or so it seems

Healthcare in the US consumed 17.9% of the overall economy in 2011. More significantly, that’s also roughly twice the percentage of economic output that is spent by other OECD countries on healthcare.

Much like a cancer, the healthcare share is expected to grow to 20% of the economy by 2021. With the roll out of Obamacare, I’d say that number is an optimistic one at that.

The entire emphasis on healthcare in the US is to facilitate funding. Controlling costs is never discussed, at least not with serious intent. Like every other problem in this country, there’s the simplistic – no, childlike – assumption that we can fix what ever is broken by printing and borrowing more money to throw at the problem. No one needs to make any sacrifices – we can have it all. And don’t dare tell us anything different.

Medical technology – a false god?

If the roughly $3 trillion spent every year on healthcare gets us only #26 among the OECD in life spans, how much will it take to get us to number one, or at least closer to it? $4 trillion? $5 trillion? $10 trillion?

At what point do we wake up and realize we’re worshipping a false god? False god as in a Trojan horse filled with empty – but very costly – promises.

I’m convinced that we’re not paying for what medical technology is doing, but for what we wish it would do. And apparently we’re prepared to spend any amount of money to make it happen.

Will it work? It hasn’t so far. I submit that most of the increase in the average life span in the US in the past 100 years has been due to economic factors, and much less on medical technology. You know, every day factors, like central heat, running water, refrigeration, and better distribution of information.

If that’s the case, we may see a decrease in longevity now that the economy seems to be in perpetual bumping-along-the-bottom mode. Or worse…

A false sense of security

The false god analogy isn’t an exaggeration. How many people in America are forgoing taking better care of themselves in favor of relying on technological magic pills? And if I can take it to it’s next logical step – how many people believe, if only subconsciously, that medical technology will one day enable them to cheat the Grim Reaper?

I don’t think I’m off base with that. Part of the reason why religious faith has been so discredited in the past 50 or so years is that many now have “faith” that it’s within the grasp of Man to be his own savior.

My response: Good luck with that assumption. The cemeteries are filled with people who believed the same thing. Make peace with your Maker – you’ll be meeting Him some day. You can count on it – whether or not you find that peace between now and then.

Obamacare – a last ditch effort to keep the charade going?

There’s been a lot of criticism of Obamacare, including a fair amount from yours truly. Obamacare is doomed to fail, but not for the reasons commonly cited. It will fail because any attempt to deal with the healthcare issue is prohibited from doing anything other than increasing funding.

Obamacare will fail because it will accelerate the rise in healthcare costs until the system implodes. And it will because healthcare is eating up more and more of the economy each year.

The dirty little secret is that that is exactly the path the US healthcare system has been on for years. I give the president credit for trying to shake up the order, but it will have the opposite affect. The people wanted something done about healthcare and they got it. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, your wish may come true.

I think that’s getting ready to happen.

Hey kids – don’t do drugs – unless…

You gotta love the “War on Drugs”, and especially the hypocrisy surrounding it. Kids spend 12 years in school learning all about the horrors of illicit drug use. They’re exposed to parades of police lectures, cute K-9 dogs, anti-drug literature, and endless lessons in science and health classes about the risks of drugs. The message is simple: Don’t do drugs!

Then they come home.

When the TV is turned on, what do they see? About a dozen commercials for prescription drugs each and every hour. Call it Pill Pornography.

There’s a pill to put you to sleep at night, one to wake you up in the morning, one to help you breath, one to help you digest your food, one to control your blood pressure, one to lower your bad cholesterol – and another to raise your good cholesterol, one to control your heart beat, one to make you happy when you aren’t, one to keep your kids from bouncing off the walls, and several to keep you regular in the bathroom. We don’t need our bodily functions any more – prescription drugs can do what our bodies won’t.

And kids see our response – the fact that so many adults are on various drug cocktails that combine several drug therapies to deal with whatever doesn’t feel right to us.

And we wonder why “kids these days” seem to be so confused. They have every right to be. Then they go on drugs themselves, getting “legal” prescriptions just like adults do, stealing their parents legal drugs, or buying the illicit kind off the street.

Again we wonder why, when the better question is why not? If you’re a prolific consumer of alcohol, it’s likely your kids will be also. And so it is with drugs. A society that champions “good drugs” has little hope of controlling the bad ones.

What’s the message? Is there a message, at least a logical one? We can’t blame the kids for this. And worse, if they don’t get the message we want them to get – the one that goes something like do as I say, not as I do – there’s a better chance than ever that they’ll be put in jail for their disobedience. And when that happens, their productive lives might be over before they even get started. Is that any way to build a future generation?

This healthcare game we’re playing isn’t harmless.

This is truly a complicated topic – hypocrisy always is. What are your thoughts?

( Photo by StockMonkeys.com )


4 Responses to With All The Miracle Drugs on TV US Has Shorter Life Spans

  1. Great post Kevin, its an interesting phenomenon with our healthcare system, there are few processes where you have one person receive benefits, one person/entity administer the benefit, and a wholly unrelated person/entity pay for the benefits. This disconnect is helping drive up costs, we need a more straightforward delivery method if we wanna cut costs, but that is not the objective!

  2. Hi Jim – I think that’s about right. The fact that the people who are receiving the benefits often don’t pay for them, or at least nothing approaching the full cost, causes a demand for still more benefits. Those who have to pay are always paying more. It’s a relentless system, with little focus on cost.

  3. Hi Stefanie – Unfortunately, under Obamacare, it looks like the system is completely based on healthy people like you compensating for others who are not so healthy. That kind of justice doesn’t exist within the new parameters.

    That said, I don’t think we’ll ever hatch a healthcare system that will be both comprehensive and completely fair. We’re fighting the limitations of our mortality when it comes to healthcare, and there are too many variables.

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