The cost of health care insurance not only distributes the cost of medical care across the population, but it also spreads the cost of medical ignorance. Compared to the populations of other developed nations, Americans are—pardon the phrase—"science stupid." We teach from one-half to one-third the amount of science taught in other developed countries. And we pay a high price for it:
Unfounded fear of vaccination.
Seeing a doctor for unnecessary medical worries.
Not reporting to physicians when there are serious symptoms.
And why are we avoiding eating pork since we can’t get "swine" flu from it? ...And on and on.
German citizens study enough about their body in high school to self-refer themselves to a specialist without going through a primary care physician. But only a few Americans, educated in biology or medical-related fields, can speak knowledgeably and in depth with their physicians.
United States per capita healthcare costs (medical plus insurance) are roughly $6000 per year. Other developed countries pay $4000, and a dozen of them have better and universal medical care. While the cost of our medical ignorance is difficult to quantify, it contributes to a major portion of this difference—a difference equal to a TARP bailout each and every year! Physicians cannot make up for our failure to know how our bodies work in adequate detail. The limited time doctors have to inspect symptoms, run tests, and diagnose leaves no time for what should have been a full year of high school study of human anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. "Preventive medicine" requires citizens who know enough to make intelligent decisions beforehand, again requiring a far deeper understanding than currently found in our general population.
To make things worse, we sit on juries and make uneducated judgements that drive up medical insurance and send the medical community into overtesting. Without laboratory coursework that teaches students scientific "significance" and helps them recognize "maloccurrence" in nature, there will be no end to the escalation in "malpractice" awards. Efforts to cap malpractice awards try to cap the effects of ignorance. We should be working to wipe out that ignorance.
Restoring anatomy and physiology education in high school will also increase our pipeline of future physicians and health care workers. We need more students to enter medicine, and that interest is usually grown in high school. And then we need to pay their tuition in medical school. When a doctor no longer has to recover $200,000 in medical school costs, that cuts health care costs as well.
I am not talking shallow "medical literacy," the superficial set of nutrition and sex ed do’s-and-don’ts sometimes preached in health classes. Other developed countries know that their citizens need to know enough about their own "owner’s manual" to respond immediately and directly to chronic health conditions as well as acute situations as they arise. That means well-trained biology teachers and a biology curriculum that equips every future citizen to be a knowledgeable patient.
But human anatomy and physiology as well as microbiology was pulled from the secondary level in the most recent Kansas Science Education Standards. It is absent from the secondary science standards in half of our states and from the high school portion of the National Science Education Standards. With education policy dominated by Education Schools, we have been under a less-science-not-more philosophy for twenty years, unable to expand the science curriculum. Nearly half of biology teachers across the United States no longer take human anatomy and physiology courses in their college curriculum, and that includes biology teacher trained at K.U. and K-State. And you can’t teach what you don’t know. 21st Century futurists tout the error-laden Internet, but ignorant patients lack the knowledge to ask questions in detail, or if they somehow get an authoritative answer, know what that answer means.
Without a return to high school coursework in human anatomy, physiology, and microbiology for all students, it is unlikely that any reform can substantially reduce the cost of U.S. health care. We all pay for both our shared medical risks, and our shared medical ignorance.