Law enforcement, fire prevention, military defense and education are among the many public services that have been socialized in the United States. I wonder, however, why these services are generally accepted as worthy of public funding, but not health care.
Medical care seems to be viewed as an industry and a privilege rather than a fundamental public right. This is not surprising, considering America’s historically capitalist economy and aversion to taxation.
An ethical and logical examination of health care is needed instead of politicized, overemotional rhetoric.
The moral argument for universal health care is strong. To deny someone care based on financial reasons is categorically unethical. A denial based on inability to pay is, in essence, putting a value on the quality and existence of human life. Privatized health care attempts to quantify the unquantifiable. It takes a measurable product — wealth — and weighs it against an individual’s life and well-being.
More sickening is that the price of care is not simply the cost of services. Private pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and investor-owned hospitals are established with profit motives and shareholder responsibilities. They are, in effect, profiting off medical complications, medical coverage and treatment of illness. Universal health care should be recognized as a case for a better standard of living rather than a case against capitalism.
Consider the following unlikely scenario: Law enforcement becomes privatized. A violent intruder breaks into your house. You frantically call the police department and alert them of your situation. They require $40,000 for the severity and uniqueness of the situation, basic operating costs, insurance to cover liabilities of police officers and a portion reserved for profits to the investors. If you do not pay, there is a good chance that your quality of life might be severely lowered.
One can consider this illustration absurd, but such a free-market investment opportunity is not much different than the health care system in America.
For the sake of critics of public health care, it’s possible to remove human empathy from the debate and examine health care operationally. Arguments against universal health care have included its effects on cost of care, research and development, quality of care, and reduction of individual choice.
Opponents of universal health care who cite higher costs as a result of socialization are simply incorrect. A global comparison of health care costs puts the U.S. well ahead of other countries with 15.3 percent of its gross domestic product devoted to health care as compared to the industrial global average of 8.9 percent. Estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2006 determined an average yearly spending of $6,714 per person in America, more than double the average global expenditure of $2,824, according to oecd.org.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of publicly funded health care is that it degrades the quality of care.
Again, these claims are not well substantiated. The Commonwealth Fund (commonwealthfund.org), a non-profit international organization aimed at investigating health care and promoting quality of care, ranked the U.S. last in efficiency when compared to Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in 2008. Additionally, according to the 2008 report, “less than half of U.S. adults with health problems were able to get a rapid appointment with a physician when they were sick. They also were the most likely among adults in seven countries surveyed to report difficulty obtaining health care after hours without going to the emergency department.”
The opposition to publicly funded health care is patently economic. If universal health care were free, and medical and insurance industries were still paid, then there would be no logical opposition.
The cries of the public who keep their purse strings tightly bound in the face of what they expect to be a large tax increase at the expense of public health care should not go unheard. It is the public who is at the mercy of the exorbitant costs of care.
However, dismissing a potentially remarkable revolution in care based on unfounded speculations of gross mismanagement and skyrocketing taxes is incompatible with the desire for better care and lower overall costs. It may not seem sensible to experiment with universal health care considering the trillions of dollars of national debt, record military spending and a looming energy crisis. However, the poor state of our health care system necessitates a higher standard of public policy.
It is blindingly evident that health care in America has much room for improvement. Anyone who uses the phrase “socialized medicine” pejoratively is arguing irrationally by bringing the debate back to tradition — a tradition of free market health care that has failed comparatively in many respects.
Daniel Dunn is a junior majoring in philosophy.