Universal Health Care

In the discussion of my previous post, the topic of universal health care came up, and as Obama’s attempts to bring it in in the US is very much in the news at the moment, I thought it might be worth a post to itself. Like gun control laws and legalised prostitution (something I will also be devoting a post to in the future), universal health care is the sort of thing that many (perhaps most) Americans consider to be very radical, but which is in fact already in place in most other first world countries.

I haven’t lived in Australia long enough to have seen it myself, but apparently when universal health care was first brought in here, there was a lot of scare mongering from doctors and the conservative side of politics, just as we see in the US every time this issue comes up. And yes, you will find a lot of horror stories about failures of the public health system in Australia, just as you will anywhere—of course, no system is perfect. However, it has been a very long time now since anyone in Australia has seriously called for the abolition of Medicare—these days, whenever we have a serious problem, it is blamed on what is actually the cause of the issue: simple incompetence, bureaucracy, or a lack of funding. The public health system works very well in Australia (or it least it works a lot better than a completely private system did), just as it does in Canada, Japan and many European countries.

Of course, the big question mark is: where does the money come from? The answer, of course, is taxes, something which many Americans seem to have a pathological hatred of. Of course none of us like paying taxes, but most Australians, Canadians and Europeans seem to realise that services cost money, and that they have to be supported by an appropriate level of taxes. Many Americans, on the other hand, simply seem to think the less tax, the better. This is why Ronald Reagan was so popular, and what got the US started on its current astronomical and ever-increasing national debt.

Of course, many people will argue that introducing the expense of universal health care now—in the middle of a recession and at a time of unprecedented government debt—would be very financially irresponsible. This fails to take into account, however, the cost of not having universal health care. For example, in the case of the current swine flu pandemic, more people would be far more likely to seek medical attention (hence help contain the spread of the virus) if they could afford it. A healthy population is a happy and prosperous one, and universal health care helps greatly to achieve that.

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Universal health care is long over due. It’s something that should be in the Constitution, “Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness and Pursuit of Good Health. Now, like any other time it’s discussion you always hear about the “horror stories” about how the Canadian system doesn’t work. It’s funny when I visit my sister and her family in Kirchener, Ont., everyone looks pretty healthy. You would if their medical care was as bad as we are told when you cross the border you would see nothing but sick people. Now granted from what my sister has told me you may have to wait for elective procedures, but if it is an emergency you are going to get what you need.

  
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The private system in the US is so outragiously corrupt and driven solely by greed that it cost twice as much as anywhere else in the world. The only way I can see any real change taking place is for our system to eventually implode the same as our financial system. As millions of Americans continue to lose their jobs and Health Insurance, something has got to give. The “Let them eat cake.” attitude of our best Congress money can buy, is eventually going to have dire consequences for the entire Nation.

As far as taxes are concerned, shouldn’t I, as a taxpayer, receive something back for the taxes I pay? What good does going to senseless war, subsidizing genocide in Israel, finding out if Mars ever had water, or paying farmers not to grow crops help WE THE PEOPLE. What Americans need now and always are jobs, health care, and peace of mind.

  
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I have already commented on this in the previous session, while we were digressing. Sachiko, I think you put it very well when you said that the cost of universal care in the UNited States has to be compared to the cost of inaction.

The beneficiaries of inaction are, of course, the insurance companies and drug companies, as well as many private physicians , who make more money in the US than their counterparts do elsewhere. THe New York TImes has done a good job a following the lobbying efforts of these industries: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/lobbying-increases-as-health-care-debate-intensifies/

A couple of years ago Canadians had a spirited national debate on national television about who “The Greatest Canadian” was. Pierre Trudeau came second. First was Tommy Douglas, who, among many other things, fought the doctors and insurance companies who were trying to frighten people about the dangers of “socialism” and brought in our first system of universal health care.

The number of Canadians who go to the US for surgery is tiny compared to the number of Americans who come to Canada to get cheaper drugs and better, more affordable health care.

Even The Economist, which is an ideologically neoliberal magazine, supports Obama’s efforts to have a government insurer and mandatory insurance. Their main criticism is that he isn’t going far enough.

If anything the inefficiency of the Canadian system does NOT come from the single payer, but from the private biller. Even Tommy Douglas had to compromise, and that compromise was fee-for-service.

In Australia, ask yourselves whether the public health care system benefits from having a parallel private system or not. My guess is that it usually doesn’t.

  
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@Mark Crawford – It seems to me that the Australian system is a pretty good compromise actually – Australians don’t have to “cross the border” if they want quick elective health care and are willing to pay for it, and having the wealthy use the private system takes some of the strain off the public system. Doctors being siphoned off to the private system is a problem in theory, but in practice, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. There are problems getting doctors to work in small, isolated communities, but this isn’t a problem with the system itself, or anything to do with public vs. private.

Originally Posted By Robert
As far as taxes are concerned, shouldn’t I, as a taxpayer, receive something back for the taxes I pay? What good does going to senseless war, subsidizing genocide in Israel, finding out if Mars ever had water, or paying farmers not to grow crops help WE THE PEOPLE. What Americans need now and always are jobs, health care, and peace of mind.

While I think the question of whether Mars ever had water (or life) or not is one of those “blue sky” scientific investigations that can often have great pay-offs for society in unexpected ways (e.g. the technologies we’ve gotten from the space program), I certainly agree with you on your other points specifically, and your main point generally. The US government has squandered a lot of money on things the majority of Americans have never asked for or wanted, while not spending money on many things that would truly benefit the American people – universal health care being a prime example.

  
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Long time, no see Sachiko!

I would LOVE for the United States to have Universal Health Care. I agree, it is long overdue. It is absolutely ridiculous that people walk around in fear that a single accident of any sort could financially ruin them for years, if not for the rest of their life. That’s even if they have insurance!

I wouldn’t mind paying higher taxes for this as I will see and literally feel that my tax dollars were being served correctly. Of course, I can’t help but to also think that if this country wasn’t so busy funding unnecessary wars, much of that military budget could be rerouted to life-affirming services such as health care and education.

But, oh! The military-industrial complex lobbyists definitely won’t like that one bit. Ah well.

  
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On one side of this debate are the people who are rightly scared of losing health coverage or being bankrupted by poor coverage, and on the other side are people who are rightly scared of a huge, inefficient government bureaucracy that sucks up more and more money while offering fewer actual services and long waits before treatment. Both sides exploit these two views to serve their own needs.

If the USA had an efficient bureaucracy such as Sweden’s, I think national health insurance would pass in an instant. The fear of an inefficient government bureaucracy drives fear of the system itself.

The HMO’s, AMA doctors, trial lawyers, pharmaceutical and drug companies are lined up with the current system. It’s what enables them to reap huge fortunes with very little oversight. I know of a doctor, in fact a relative, who makes $700K per year removing kidney stones. Is that really the true value of his work? Does he love the current system? It’s not just him, but thousands of doctors like him that will lobby using every scare tactic they can find to maintain the present system. They play on fear of the unknown.

Personally, I think a national health care system is a good thing. Would taxes go up? Sure, but probably not as much as most would save from their current health insurance payments deducted off every paycheck. If the companies they work for continue to pay into a national system, my guess is that the majority of people would actually pay out LESS money each month. Using a tax increase without taking the current company deductions into consideration is misleading.

To sell the system, the backers need to attack the actual problem, which is fear of the unknown. The workings of the new system must be explained in the most transparent and thorough way possible. The current mess that Congress calls a health reform plan will need to be drastically amended before that sale to the American people will be possible.

  
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Yes, the universal health care coverage is long overdue in the US. But the cut-down imitation of that system now being put before Congress by Obama and his financial overlords is most certainly not the health care goal the working citizens of the free world are looking for. This proposal, so far, is a big fat dirty trick, proposed expediently by a stick-in-the-mud financial dictatorship that seeks to exploit and displace the democracy and livelihood of Americans even further, in the midst of lethal repressionary trends. The current bill of goods is, point for point, an almost exact copy of Hitler’s T4 medical policy signed into law by the Fuehrer himself as WWII was launched in earnest. Check it out, folks! There is even a sort of “board of doctors” proposed that is supposed to convene to judge whether certain lives are worthy of living, and worthy of medical expense. In sync with this proposed legislation, California’s Governor Arnie has just signed off for massive health-care funding cuts — cuts that target the most vulnerable citizens — to attempt to balance his State’s ailing budget. Many otherwise productive workers might need health care and might not get it. Does that bode well for a future of balanced budgets?

  
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The most ridiculous thing for me about the debate in the U.S. is that Americans spend a significant part of their GDP on insurance policy administration, HMO administration, medical malpractice insurance, lawyers who litigate these issues, etc. all of which would be maligned as “bureaucracy” if it existed in the public sector. In Canada, and to a considerable extent Australia, many of these people don’t exist or are more profitably employed elsewhere.

It is a pervasive feature of conservative ideology that everything in the private sector is assumed to be “productive” and “free” and everything in the public sector is presumed to be parasitic and wasteful. The U.S. health care system is perhaps the best example of how misleading these stereotypes are.

  
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Ah, I’m fully back online at last, so I can finally respond to most of the great recent comments here!

@Mark – I absolutely agree – I think this is a key point that many Americans seem to consistently fail to take into account. Surely the recent financial crisis has shown that the private sector can be anything but efficient, and can in reality be a far greater drain on resources than the public sector?

I also strongly agree with the point put by Steve and others that any increase in taxes would be far more than offset by the reduction in the costs Americans are now paying to private health insurance companies. Do Americans want a health care system that gives them the best and cheapest health care, or is basically mostly a charity for health insurance companies, drug companies and doctors?

Originally Posted By Aspasia
Long time, no see Sachiko!

It’s good to see you here again Aspasia!

  
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