The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has stumbled in front of the microphones all across Europe—and the Middle East—over the past week, even to the point where one of his aides blew up at a pack of pesky reporters. Not that anyone can blame him for that.
And while it's easy to concede that maybe the Brits are a wee bit overly sensitive about their spot on the international stage right now, Romney's stop in Israel might have been his most newsworthy—and not necessarily for his comments riling up the Palestinians (and even a few Israelis).
(Editorial note: There's a reason I haven't written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in my 20-year career: It's a minefield topic of race, religion and one bloody history. Which is also probably why no matter what Romney said during his trip to Israel, someone would find themselves offended by what he had to say. It's the geopolitical equivalent of a no-win situation.)
So, leaving the obvious conflict aside, what caught my attention was Romney's unabashed praise of Israel's health care system. And looking at the numbers, it's hard to argue with: Israel's managed to hold annual health care cost growth steady for the better part of two decades without sacrificing quality of care. In fact, their average life expectancy remains higher than our own national average, based on data from the New England Journal of Medicine.
Here's the quote everyone's citing from Romney's speech:
"When our health care costs are completely out of control. Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care: 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our health care costs."
He's absolutely right. But how did they get there? A national mandate and a hard cap on costs. It's been a nationalized system since 1995 with only four nonprofit health maintenance organizations running things.
And, oddly enough, they've also managed to not only keep doctors employed, but they boast more physicians per capita than most industrialized nations, with 3.36 per 1,000 people (and they're actually worried about a shortage). By comparison, we have 2.3 doctors for every 1,000 people in the States.
The country's even emerging as a pre-eminent medical tourism destination—especially for Russians—with one report showing roughly 30,000 patients came to the country for treatment in 2010.
I'm not saying it would work here necessarily, but I agree with Romney that Israel's system works pretty darn well. If only it weren't such a socialized system of medicine.