...in my opinion, is habitual overconsumption. It raises demand and prices, constrains supply, and makes us less healthy than most of the rest of the developed world.
Health care is like food. You need a certain amount to stay alive and fit. Consuming too much, or the wrong kind, will ruin your health.
Emergency room care is like fast food. Sometimes it really hits the spot, and sometimes it's the only thing available. But making it your only diet will send you to an early grave.
Americans have an obesity problem. We have become victims of our own prosperity. We are also highly susceptible to advertising.
The economic boom that followed World War II, as well as the medical advances that came about during and after the war, led to enormous gains in general well-being and life expectancy for the average American. We learned that modern science can always improve on nature.
Regular check-ups and diagnostic X-rays, just in case, are always a good idea, we were told (despite evidence that too many of those X-rays over a lifetime may actually cause more cancers than they detect). The flap over the federal government's new mammogram guidelines demonstrates just how well Americans have been convinced that if a little of something is good, more must always be better. Many doctors have been concerned for years about the cumulative effect of too many mammograms over a woman's lifetime.
Since pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to advertise directly to consumers, the industry has skyrocketed, as have deaths from prescription drugs. A great many people benefit from the proper medications in the proper dosage. Unfortunately, a significant number of people take medications that do more harm than good.
Doctors push them because their patients ask for them, and because they have been taught (at a medical education conference at a tropical resort hotel, sponsored by a drug company) that the latest colored pill has been shown to be 61% more effective than a placebo, with minimal side effects. They never hear about the studies in which the placebo performed better. That's because, unlike European regulators, the FDA does not require pharmaceutical companies to publish the results of all of the studies they conduct. Big Pharma gets to cherry-pick, and we all get the pits.
It is clear that our government lacks the political will to stand up to Big Pharma (which spends more on marketing than it does on research and development). What we need, independent of any bungling attempts at reform that our government officials may make, is a strong consumer education campaign. Maybe some NGO could get that ad agency that does the anti-tobacco "Truth" commercials to come up with something similar about prescription drugs.