Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Is health care next?
Today's New York Times reports that the National Academy of Sciences has notified the Bush Administration that the United States' health care system " in crisis." The report notes that "The health care delivery system is incapable of meeting the present, let alone the future, needs of the American people." (NYT, November 20, 2002, A1)

Almost 20 years ago, a similar report alerted the American people to a crisis in our public schools. The 1984 report, "A Nation at Risk" noted the "rising tide of mediocrity" that marked the state of American schools. Two decades later, countless new state and federal policy acts, billions in public money, millions more in philanthropic dollars - the school crisis seems ever whith us. Is health care next...?

This question is quite pressing for several reasons. The obvious ones have to with the health of our poorest, frailest friends, family members, and neighbors. But the question is also indicative of the new faces of America and the impact current demographics are likely to have on public policy and perhaps private philanthropy as well. The average age of Americans is now 34, "the oldest ever" according to an analysis of the 2000 Census commissioned by the Surdna Foundation. As we age our medical needs increase, our individual contributions to public revenue coffers through payroll taxes and other structures decline, and our demands on those services and protections rise. If the system is in crisis now, what will it look like when today's 34 year olds are 64?

How will we as a nation care for ourselves over time? How will public and private systems work together to meet the basic health needs of all our people? How will we act now to avoid looking back in 2022 or 2032 and wondering how the walthiest country in the world failed to both educate its children and care for its elderly?

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