Cover Story: Comparing health care abroad

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - President Obama on Wednesday night making what's being called the most important speech of his presidency.  He'll be trying to get the health care reform train back on track.  After months of criticism for not offering a clear plan, the White House says the president will talk about specific goals tonight.  As PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson explains in our Cover Story this is not the first time Congress has had this debate.

Health care reform has a storied past.

The debate over health insurance and health care services goes back almost 100 years in this country.. President Teddy Roosevelt proposed it back in 1912.

And it's resurfaced in about 20 year intervals.. like cicadas.

When it comes to health care and health insurance.. James Litvak offers a unique perspective.

Born and lived in Canada 22 years.. where they have national health insurance.. he moved to the U.S. 4 years ago..

Which system does he like better?

You might be surprised.

"I believe that the system here is better than the one in Canada," says Litvak.

What does he like about the American system?

Freedom to choose and speed of delivery.

Elective surgery.. for example can take months of waiting.

It's those kind of opinions and feelings Pres. Obama has to overcome if he hopes to reform the health care system.

It's not a new debate.

"Every 20 years there's been a wave of health care reform. There's been alternatively Democratic and Republican led."

Dr. Michael Thompson has studied the American health care system and how health coverage is offered all over the world.

He says of the developed world.. America is the only country that doesn't provide universal coverage.. and these facts he says bear that out.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is four years less than Europe.  Infant mortality here is two times greater.  And 18-percent of our economy goes to health care.. compared to 6-to-7 percent in Europe.

"The primary motivation was cost containment. And so the question was who's cost? Who's paying for it? and why should I give up something that I have?"

Sound familiar? Arguments aren't from today.. but in the 70s when Richard Nixon tried to propose health care reform.

Coverage of the masses is not a new idea.

Some of the earliest history goes back to Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s.

It resurfaced.. out of the Great Depression.

Re-emerged as a post World War Two issue in the 1950s.. when employers got involved as a way to offer more benefits to workers.

The argument against universal coverage today is that we don't want the government involved in health care.. arguments some question.

"We have no problems of public education, public fire and water services. We think that collective effort is good. I'm not sure why health care if different from that perspective."

What must the president do tonight?

Experts say calm the American public that this is a debate that we should be having.  And secondly, Mr. Obama has to describe what it is he wants to do.