Sydney skyline

global_post_logoBy Alan Mascarenhas — the views expressed are his own. This article first appeared onGlobalPost

SYDNEY, Australia — Here’s a damning statistic: Australia spends 8.7 percent of its GDP on health care and covers everyone, irrespective of their employment status. The U.S., meanwhile, spends 16 percent of its GDP on health care — far more than any other industrialized country — yet 47 million of its citizens lack health insurance while millions more are underinsured.

Critics of nationalized health care paint systems such as Australia’s as anything but healthy or caring, with putrid public hospitals that offer little more certainty than a long waiting list. This is a point not lost on Australians, with the topic of hospital waiting lists a perennial hot-button topic at election time.

Meantime, here’s a view of America from Down Under: The U.S. health care debate is at best bemusing to watch, with all those exasperated Americans working up a head of steam in shout fests called “town halls meetings,” most of which resemble a bar room brawl minus the blood. (See related GlobalPost story “Where the healthcare debate seems bizarre.”)

Yes, Australia’s universal health care is a long way from Nirvana. Indeed, it underperforms the U.S. in some key respects. Yet, lawmakers of all persuasions tamper with it at their peril because they know that most Australians would rather die than give it up.