A guy I know had surgery recently for an ingrown toenail. In an earlier day, the procedure would've been done in the doctor's office in a few minutes and he'd have been sent home. Instead, the doc did it as an outpatient procedure in an operating room at the local hospital.

In the earlier day, the procedure would've cost maybe a couple hundred bucks in the doctor's office.

In the hospital operating room, the tab was $3,000.

That is just one small example of why American health care has become the most expensive in the industrialized world and, for the most part, the least effective — one that has potential to bankrupt the nation even if Congress does nothing and the present system continues.

The tempest in a teapot surrounding the current effort toward universal health care coverage has been a lot of screaming and shouting by opponents behind a smoke screen of “socialism,” “pulling the plug on grandma,” and other equally baseless charges.

Why, one wonders, are they so enamored with a health care system (?) that now:

  • Constitutes one-sixth of the U.S. economy, with costs that continually rise at a rate much higher than that of inflation and seven times greater than increases in wages.

  • Ranks well below 25th place in the world in effectiveness, below 70th place in overall performance, and below 20th place in life expectancy.

  • Offers little or no competition among hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and most health care providers — there is no “free market” in medical care (and the previous administration handed the drug companies a multi-billion-dollar lagniappe by requiring a provision that the Medicare drug program not be subject to competitive bidding).

  • Spends nearly five times as much on health care as national defense.

  • Has constantly increased premiums for those fortunate enough to have employer health insurance (employment-based premiums rose 120 percent from 1999-2008), while reducing benefits and increasing co-pays (and driving up costs for businesses, small and large, that provide insurance for their employees — the fastest growing cost component for employers).

  • Is responsible for more than 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in the U.S. (68 percent of those were people who had health insurance, but were left with costs either denied or not covered).

  • Is centered on insurance companies that use every excuse possible to deny payment and/or coverage to those who have pre-existing medical conditions or aren't healthy enough to meet their coverage requirements.

  • Supports a handful of megalithic health insurance companies that offer little or no competition, pay their CEOs multi-million yearly salaries/bonuses, and spend 18 cents to 21 cents of every premium dollar on administrative costs (compared to only 5 cents to 6 cents for other industrialized nations).

This is a system that isn't sorely in need of reforming and an injection of the competition that has thus far been sorely lacking?