It’s Cheaper, Really!

January 25, 2006

I had a neat conversation about health care with two colleagues at lunch today. If I understood them correctly, one of these individuals leans more toward the Republican view that nationalized, taxpayer-funded medical insurance is just generally a bad idea. The other individual was more liberal, but had some misgivings about the prospect of higher taxes.

Me? I don’t work in the health care industry, nor am I an economist. (No health care wonk, me.) But there are a few understandings that I’d like to share with you. As usual, if I am wrong please use the comments to set me straight.

1. Pretty much every first-world, post-industrialized country has single-payer national health care coverage. Except us.

2. They all pay a lot less for health care. A lot. Like on average they pay 50% less than we do. (I know! You’re doing a double-take on that. I did, too. But those are indeed the facts.)

3. Health care rationing is not widespread in places like Canada, right-wing noisemaking notwithstanding.

4. Even if you do have to wait your turn for elective surgeries and the like, so what? There’s a social justice issue here that nobody can deny. Perhaps under their system you have to wait six months for your liposuction; under our system 45 million of your fellow citizens don’t have coverage. Let your conscience be your guide, people.

5. I already gave it away: 45 million Americans do not have health insurance. There are only 300 million people in the United States! That’s almost one in six that has no health insurance.

Anyway, we were having this discussion. Good points were made all around. But near the end I kept being asked questions like “are you personally willing to pay $100 more out of your paycheck for this system you’re advocating?” And I kept saying “I don’t understand your question: national health care costs less than what we’re doing now. Less is not more.”

“But there will be a huge increase in taxes!”

Yeah. But all that money you and your employer currently pay for health insurance? Yours now. And it’s more. More than the increase in taxes.

“But all that money has to come from somewhere!”

Yeah. It comes from your paycheck in the form of taxes. All of which is more than offset by the fact that you (and your employer) are no longer paying for the more expensive system that we currently have.

And so on.

In the end, I still sensed incredulity. I think some folks just can’t imagine that a national heath care system like Canada’s everyone else’s can actually – really and truly! – cost less than our own system. They just keep coming back to that question: how will we pay for it?

When we finally do this thing (and I believe we will), the real question will likely be what to do with all the surplus cash.

No comments yet

  1. Well, the last time we had a surplus — from Clinton’s administration — we just elected a dumb-ass president who blew it all, and then some! So if there’s a surplus, we’ll just continue paying off the legacy of Dubya’s neverending debt.

  2. I wonder what the numbers would look like. You think we could pay for the entire war, plus the hurricanes, all by switching to national health care? I betcha we could.

  3. Coincidentally, one of the medical newsletters I subscribe (Medscape) just had an editorial last week from physicians seeking “emancipation” from the current system with nationalized health care. Evidently it’s an idea a lot of physicians are embracing. I would link but you have to be a subscriber to read it.

  4. Two points:

    1. Such a plan was proposed either in the New Deal or around World War II, and either by President F. D. Roosevelt or H. S. Truman. It was shot down or removed due to conservative resistance.

    2. One of the biggest problems General Motors faced was the ever-increasing cost of health care. You would think they too would be calling for national health care.

    Make that four points:

    3. MY dad, who’s a doctor, once muttered something about crappy health care in Canada. I don’t buy it. Keep in mind he lives in East Texas…

    4. I will be buying my own health insurance through the university. I’m damn fortunate to be able to do so, unlike a majority of fellow students.

  5. I have to agree. I remember several years ago Scott’s uncle (at the time a phsycian in WI) expressed his full support of a national health care system similiar to Canada. He had dealt with many Canada physicians through his involvement in Medical Advisory Committee for the State of WI and had felt the waiting for elective surgery concerns were way overblown. I also have a friend from work who’s parents moved to Canada for his job. They are US citizens and now that he is retired it is not cost effect for him to return and have to pay for the out of pocket medical care expenses on a fixed income. They don’t believe they are compromising their health in anyway. We need to wake up on this issue.

  6. Off topic: Thank god you changed the template. I was getting so I never visited because of that ugly thing. This one’s much better. It even has pictures!

  7. Uh, which one? I’ve tried about five in the last hour. 🙂

  8. […] Fact: On average, their systems cost about half of what ours does. Half. […]

  9. […] It’s Cheaper, Really! […]

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