Unfortunately, health care in the United States is a privilege, not a right. Opponents of health care insurance reform prefer the status quo, that is, obscene profits for the health insurance industry while consumers pay more for less coverage. Our present health care system is riddled with inefficiencies, excessive administrative expenses, inflated prices, poor management, and inappropriate care, waste and fraud. And too many Americans do not even have the “privilege” of health care.
The dreaded “S” word
Socialized medicine is coming! Lock your doors and shutter your windows. Why is the dreaded “S” word used to oppose health care reform? Those who use the dreaded “S” word never really define what they mean by socialism. To some, it is an expansion in government spending. For example, they deemed the stimulus bill socialist—even though the architect of such policies, John Maynard Keynes, advocated a capitalist economic system. Thus, President Obama who is trying to save capitalism from itself must be a socialist.
Since 1913, the federal tax code has used a progressive formula whereby the rich pay a higher percentage in taxes. Thus, one aim of our federal tax code is to redistribute wealth and, by the way, not doing a very good job of it. Guess our tax system is socialistic as is Social Security, public housing, unemployment insurance, medicare, school breakfast programs, etc. You get the idea.
In other developed democracies, national health care systems are so popular that once established, it would be politically impossible to eliminate them. In a recent Gallup poll, while only 57 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with their health care, over 75 percent of Canadians and Western Europeans said they would not trade their health care system for the current U.S. model. Remember Sicko, Michael Moore’s documentary on America’s health care system as compared to the universal free health care systems in Canada, France, Britain, and Cuba.
Why are Republicans trying to sow doubt and prevent passage of a national health care bill? Because they want to protect the for-profit health care and pharmaceutical industries. They want an unregulated capitalism, the kind that got us into our present financial mess.
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee health care to all its citizens. In 2007, nearly 46 million Americans, or 18 percent of the population under the age of 65, were without health insurance. Why? Because a third of this country’s firms did not offer coverage in 2007. Even if health coverage was offered, many employees could not afford their part of the premiums. And losing a job meant losing coverage because they could not afford to pay for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health insurance—the continuation of group coverage offered by their former employers.
And when an employee loses his or her health coverage, it also means a family loses its coverage. Persons without health coverage usually must pay upfront for medical care or go untreated. Many end up in the emergency room. The uninsured are likely to receive less preventive care, may be diagnosed at a later stage of a disease, and once diagnosed, receive less therapeutic care and have higher mortality rates. It is estimated that the United States spends $100 billion per year for the uninsured, often for preventable diseases that physicians could have treated more efficiently at an early stage of diagnosis.
Insurance company profits
Profits at ten of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007. One of the main reasons for such high profits is the growing lack of competition in the private health insurance industry that has led to near monopoly conditions in many markets. Any comparative analysis of health care systems indicates that the greater the role of private, for-profit health insurance companies in the delivery of health care, the higher the cost. This is why the United States has the most expensive healthcare system in the world but trails well behind on crucial indicators of public health, such as infant mortality, longevity, and death of women in childbirth.
These facts provide compelling evidence for a public health insurance plan option to provide some healthy competition, which in turn will provide the greatest number of choices possible for consumers.
For more than 60 years, the United States has tried to make quality, affordable health insurance coverage available to all Americans. Now is the time to make health care a right for all Americans.
Ralph E. Stone is a retired Bay Area attorney.