Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

My Case for Universal Health Care

I used to read Newsweek magazine; I loved the illustrations on the cover, the journalism present within, and the witty, insightful commentary from its many writers. That is, until I laid eyes on their most recent cover:

I can’t say as though I’ll be picking up a copy of Newsweek again any time soon.

But let me get right to the point: I am tired of partisan politics and name-calling getting in the way of progress and doing what is right for my fellow countrymen. And I am especially sick of the media perpetuating that (see above)–not simply by repeating what they are saying but by proliferating the name-calling and categorizing themselves. In short, don’t just blame the government for the shoddy economy or sorry state of affairs; thank your favorite media establishment.

Socialism…what a word. Princeton defines it as a political theory advocating state ownership of industry or an economic system based on state ownership of capital. According to Robert Fanney:

Socialism, to [Republicans], is helping the poor, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be educated, providing health-care to those who need it most — the sick. To them, socialism is building roads, providing funds for needed infrastructure, advancing science. To them, socialism is maintaining an effective system of government because, in some twisted part of their misshapen logic, government is a worthless endeavor and doesn’t have a right to exist.

Sarah Palin defines it as whatever comes out of Barack Obama’s mouth.

Let’s talk about the health of this nation and all those who inhabit it–not just the wealthy or those able to afford basic care. 45 million Americans have no health insurance. Over one-third of families living below the poverty line are uninsured. 18,000 citizens die each year–the ultimate sacrifice–due to lack of/inadequate treatment stemming from no health insurance.

For those with health insurance, the picture is not much prettier. Nearly half of all bankruptcies in the United States are caused by high health costs–75% of those bankruptcies are among people with health insurance. The average cost of health care in the US, per person, is nearly $7,000 per year–way more than every other nation on Earth. But are Americans miraculously healthier or longer-living? No! Canada, Cuba, and El Salvador all have higher life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates than the United States–and that’s just naming a few of the countries superior to us in those categories.

Oh, but don’t worry, because thanks to that Medicare Part D that President Bush signed in 2003, the federal government will be dishing out over $800 billion to the prescription drug companies. And this will only give these businesses a 3.6% overhead; those not on Medicare and requiring drugs would help private medical companies siphon off an 11.6% overhead.

Rather than accept this, millions of Americans have been trumpeting a call for universal health coverage–because as a nation, we are a family, and helping the entirety of our family stay healthy isn’t just morally right, it is what this country was founded on. Not everyone agrees with this sentiment, so let’s accept that and delve right into the main reason for detraction: that somehow, a universal health care system makes us on par with the Soviet Union.

Those who cry “socialist” neglect to mention the one government-run program that they rely on every, single day: the United States military. Owned and operated by Uncle Sam, our Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines are the best, most technologically advanced, well-funded, highly-skilled, and expertly trained in the world. They have the ability to defeat any foe on any battlfield in the world at nearly a moment’s notice.

Yet, essentially, why is a program–like the military or health care–run by the government? Because it provides a service that is essential to the safety, security, and health of the entire nation.

Think about it–if national security were only provided to those who had the financial means to purchase it, you’d have a bunch of private security forces guarding only the rich, while the poor were left to defend themselves; you’d have rival factions of forces throughout the country rather than one, unified and mighty guard. Everything about that just sounds completely wrong, doesn’t it?

Many who fear universal government are averse to “big government.” Well let me give you a simple lesson in the Bill of Rights–“big government” is the government trying to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body; it is the government supporting an establishment of religion; it is the government denying equality in marriage simply because someone is “different.” Those examples are all topics for a different post, but they help me accentuate my point: universal health care is not “big government.” In the American model of republicanism, it is good government.

We must realize that there is a big difference between “standard of living” and quality of life. Medical costs continue to be one of the biggest expenses of federal and family budgets; from a broader Constitutional perspective, exorbitant bills sometimes rob an individual of “life” and always derail that quintessential “pursuit of happiness.”

Does our current system even make sense? Certainly, the wealthy can afford “better” health care, but does disease recognize that? Does sickness respect differences in wealth? No. A society that only provides adequate medical coverage to the majority and rejects the minority ensures that disease, obesity, and other near-epidemics will always be lurking in the bottom caste of the population–and I think we can do better than that.

When did America give up its Americanism?

Doctors and medical personnel provide us all a service that is arguably as important as our nation’s proud military (health care is, arguably, a pertinent national security issue). Those who doubt our nation’s ability to fund, train, equip, operate, and lead a universal health care system doubt the very sentiments that have established this country–but they aren’t alone. Over 230 years ago, there were many who doubted the founding fathers’ ability to effectively govern, establish this nation and fight for it (indeed, even the Fathers themselves at times).

Who will be the George Washington of health care? John Adams? Thomas Jefferson? We have a mighty and extraordinary nation, but we can make it better–and indeed, we must if we are to endure.

Some will hear “universal health care” and will say there is nothing more socialist. I say, for all time, that there is nothing more American.

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  1. This, along with alternative energy, is the most important topic to me. I feel like we can make this country a better place instead of wallowing in mediocrity. Now I’ve just gotta get a super-majority of the country along with me…

    Please join the journeying progressive at For Which It Stands for legendary musings and an insatiable quest for knowledge.

  2. creamer

     And once you get past all labels, definitions and rethoric I think it gets to cost. And in the current economic climate it might well make any significant changes impossible in the near term. And I want to note that I’m making an assesment of the political climate not a stamemnt of my wishes.

     I suspect most small bussiness owners would like to see health care paid for by the government in some fashion, I think they also fear the unknown, how will I be taxed to pay for it?

     I also think that many americans are all for everyone having healthcare unless it affects them. The European models appear to allow access to all by making people wait longer periods for care of un-life threatining issues. What I hear many say is they are not willing to sacrifice imediate care for everything, for primary care for everyone.

     I would love for our country to have true universal health care. Failing that I would love for all children and pregnant women to have full health care.  

  3. We’ve discussed healthcare on the Moose before, and so apologies to other Mooses who’ve heard me say this in the past, but I firmly believe that free access to healthcare is, along with universal education, the only way that a competitive open market can function properly.

    When Adam Smith envisaged that the “invisible hand” of market forces would lead talent to find its own specialisation and reward, he not only saw monopoly practices or closed shop guilds as barriers to this division of labour working effectively: the labour too had to be mobile as the capital, and this mobility is not only about moving house and getting work, but reskilling through education and (of course) not being held back by disease or disability unfairly.

    We accept that no kind of free market can exist without the precondition of access to universal education. Without free schooling, only the rich will get the appropriate work, and the talent pool is diminished and the quality of life, productivity and fairness suffers as a consequence. This educational monopoly still happens, to a decreasing extent, with British public schools (er…. means posh ‘private’ in the UK) and the US ivy league system. But we all agree and accept that talent should not be penalised by background.

    Why the same principles aren’t applied to basic health care in the US – another huge barrier in the marketplace – baffles me. I understand the problems of implementation, and the danger of bureaucratic over control. But surely the same was said two hundred years ago when universal education was first mooted.  It was certainly the Tories biggest criticism of the NHS when the 1940s Labour government created a universal health care system after World War II. But despite Thatcher, the Tories have been big backers of the NHS ever since then, and no British politician would suggest abandoning it: that would be a live rail.  

  4. spacemanspiff

    I agree with almost everything said in this diary (and what will follow in comments) so I thought I’d throw different stuff out there for discussion.

    What is the U.S. system good at? Emergency care, speed of treament and testing, critical care, experimental and advanced treatments, availability of consults/second opinions, aggressive prevention and accountability of nosocomial infections and aggressive treatment options.  To put it succinctly, when (IF) the system accepts you into its care, it is ridiculously fast, keeps you safe and refuses to accept defeat.

    America’s failings in healthcare?  Unequal access, awful health education and prevention, relative aversion to holistic medicine/alternative therapy, cost of medications, medically expensive overcautiousness (as related to prevention of liability), poor coordination of GPs and recommended preventative testing throughout the lifespan, and truly awful patient accountability.

    I want to point out on big factor in regards to healthcare spending that has been overlooked in the rants (in general, not on the Moose) over theoretically rational free markets and personal responsibility – stress. Trying to weigh life-threatening risks to your own health can be enormously stressful, sabotaging one’s ability to withstand illness.  

    Levels of stress can have an enormous effect on people’s ability to recover. To understand the effect that mental well-being and stress levels can have on health. The placebo effect . Its also why faith DOES play a big role in the recovery of A LOT of patients and its why we are taught in med school to never discourage patients and their loved ones from believing that God (or whatever their belief system is) will help them out.

    You know the thing that annoys the tar out of me in regard to American health care is that the profits of insurance companies have to be added to the cost of actual care. We have a whole economic segment of middlemen and parasites whose only function is to push paper and money around, skimming off their profits before they pay the doctors. Madness!

    Healthcare has certain special properties that do not make it a good fit with market mechanisms.

    1. People want to get cured, but the ideal patient from a business point of view is one who needs chronic treatment, which is why more money is invested to develop AIDS and cancer “cocktails” than cures.

    2. Cheap preventive medicine makes sense if you intend to reduce health costs later on, but it’s a loser for business. You can’t charge that much to keep healthy people healthy, but sick and dying people will go through all their cash, and then some, in order to survive.

    So it is true that once you are about to pass away, the US healthcare system is top of the line.

    It is dramatic as a carrier landing and expensive as a missile.

    It’s also a very ineficient way to make people live longer … but hey!

    It does look good on TV.

  5. I just love to see a position put for with intense, controlled passion!

    It may be true that in the Moose context I am most likely to be found “arguing against” socialized medicine, but in fact I have made just your points most of my life (and still do).  For right-of-center reasons I want an educated, secure, mobile and healthy population in my country so that the maximum number of people can productively live their lives and add to the overall culture, and so that the minimum number of people need unusual assistance and/or end up bring down the rest of us.  That pretty well wraps up all the areas I want government involved in: education, security, infrastructure and medicine.  The gov’t is involved in all of these things today, the outstanding question on “medicine” is whether it is involved enough at the moment.

    As I mentioned in the HEMA diary: while I will talk about all this stuff until something happens, I welcome the change when it comes.  I’m relatively comfortable the current administration will take steps that avoid the worst of my fears and solve the worst of the problems.  The sooner the better.

  6. creamer

     Is that a question that still needs to be answered?

    Does the child of a corporate executive deserve better care than a child of a Walmart cashier?

     We have in practice a two tiered system of education wich we seem to aknowledge and try to correct. If we are going to develop a two tiered system of healthcare it would seem to suggest an aknowledgement that we are not all equal.

    I tend to resist that notion.

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