One of the most important issues we all face is health care. Anyone watching the news recently has been inundated with competing ideas and programs on this topic. But there is one characteristic that our pre-Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) system shared with the recent Republican plan and with Obamacare itself: They are all ruinously expensive. By many measurements, we actually have one of the worse health care systems among modern nations.
The federal government has numerous health care programs, such as Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor, Obamacare, the Veterans Administration … Plus, there are several major insurance companies that businesses and individuals often use, and of course, you can pay out of pocket. Whichever the case, though, the money we spend on health care is enormous, and its costs are rapidly rising. We face an ominous health care future of increasing debt, perhaps paired with decreasing coverage. It’s time to acknowledge that our current thinking on this issue is flawed and start taking a new approach.
A major obstacle to change is the ideological and political entrenchment so many people have on this sensitive topic. For many citizens, implementing a health care system that is not based on free enterprise is a socialist sellout that will surely lead us into a North Korean-style dystopia. But let’s think out this issue a little more.
I like free enterprise, but what if we were to decide to cancel all federal expenditures on national defense and leave the provisioning of that important service to the free market? Do you think that citizens and corporations would pony up $600 billion each year to cover its costs? Moreover, how would it be organized, and to whom would the military report? Sometimes a market approach doesn’t work.
There is also a dark, often unacknowledged, side of for-profit (aka free enterprise) medicine. I once wandered into a doctor’s office in search of a solution to a relatively minor health issue. The particular doctor, to my misfortune, turned out to be the rare type who puts profits over the best interests of his patients and performed an expensive, yet completely inappropriate, medical procedure that will probably haunt me until the end of my days. Millions of Americans have experienced similar “treatments.” There is an inherent flaw in the medicine for profit model.
It’s also the case that providing health care insurance for its employees is cripplingly expensive for many companies. Following World War II, numerous nations began to turn to a national-based health care system run by their federal government. In America, however, determined not to be socialistic, we chose to place the main burden of providing health care on employers.
If one thinks out this decision, they might arrive at the accurate conclusion that, by doing so, we ultimately placed our corporations in a state of competitive disadvantage to foreign companies. Therefore, if you love capitalism and want to make corporate America more competitive, you might want to consider a national health care model.
Many issues in life are better handled by collective action than by a free market. Health care is one of those issues. There is a sound reason why nearly every advanced nation in the world uses a government managed, single-payer system. In many nations, the costs of health care are about half of what they are in America and the medical outcomes are just as good, sometimes better.
We should look abroad to find the best components of health care programs and use them to construct our own system, tweaking it to fit our unique culture emphasizing individualism and markets. Somewhat of a hybrid system might be the end result. But we must get the medical insurance companies out of the picture and have the federal government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies to control costs.
Let’s use the resourcefulness and determination we mustered to send a man to the moon to make a health care system that is affordable, exemplary, and covers every citizen.
Mark Mansperger is an associate professor of Anthropology and World Civilizations at WSU Tri-Citites. He resides in Richland.