The Elephant Called Universal Health Care

July 11, 2006

There’s an elephant in America’s living room and everyone seems to prefer walking around it instead of saying “whoa there’s an elephant in here!” I don’t mean our health care problem; everyone talks about that. I’m talking about the solution.

Pretty much all other industrialized nations on the earth have a single comprehensive system that covers all citizens. We don’t. We have 45 million Americans without health insurance. And it is estimated that 18,000 Americans die prematurely every year because of this lack. That doesn’t even count people who are just sicker, or more miserable, or who go bankrupt, or who miss work. The 18,000 are just the one’s who actually die.

On average these other countries spend $2193 per person for health care. We spend $5267 per person. That’s more than double. And the next runner up isn’t even close: Switzerland with a paltry $3446! (All 2002 numbers.)

We tell ourselves that our health care system is the best in the world, yet we are not healthier than our counterparts in other countries. In fact, there is some evidence to indicate that we are sicker.

The obvious solution is that we need to adopt a system similar to what these other folks have! We’ll pay less and cover everyone! There’s a friggin’ elephant in the goddamned living room, people!

Why is it that we are ignoring the elephant? Because of ideology. In particular it’s the conservative idea that the government can literally never be the solution to a problem. Even in an instance such as this one – where the only obvious solution to is to act collectively for the benefit of all – we can’t even see it. Universal health care systems aren’t even on the political radar in America. We’re not even talking about it.

News flash. The free market has failed us in the area of health care. And we have plenty of promising examples of government-administered systems that are far cheaper and that work better than ours. I’s time to talk about the elephant, America.

PS. There’s an obvious joke in here about the elephant being the Republican party, but to invoke such a joke would be unfair and disingenuous. Neither political party seems to be doing anything meaningful about our crisis. And I predict they won’t – not until we make them. Rise up. Demand it. The solutions are there.


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  1. This is ONE issue that absolutely drives me nuts about politics and government. As far as healthcare goes, America does not have it right…but we are so arrogant that we can’t possibly admit that another country actually does something better than us!

  2. Why do you hate America, Michelle?

  3. LOL…bite me! I’m just here for the free drinks.

  4. Scott – great post. I didn’t read it soon enough though. I was going to ask you why you hated America, but you already pulled that card on Michelle.

  5. Since you asked!!! It’s because I’m a socialist, collectivist, leftist, freedom-despising, market-detesting francophile.

  6. I’m glad you recognize that Bill and Hillary didn’t do any more for health care reform than GW. The finger pointing and accusations between the medical providers, insurance providers, malpractice insurance providers and lawyers needs to stop, but handing anything over to the government to run is a mistake. Just help your elderly parents deal with Medicare and you can experience first hand how the government can screw it up. Talk with the Canadians and the Brits about the quality of their national health care. Only France (as much as I hate to admit it) has fairly decent national health care. The US has the highest level of health care technology, but delivering that technology and basic services for a reasonable cost is the problem. I don’t have a magic solution, but turning it over to the government is not it!

  7. The Clintons didn’t remove the elephant, but at least they talked about it. The last time universal health care coverage was on the table was in 1992. They didn’t manage to accomplish anything, but they tried.

    I don’t think “ask people about their health care in …” isn’t a reliable way to find out how well or poorly the system is working. That’s like saying “ask people about their tax system”; lots of people will complain, but that doesn’t mean their system is bad or that ours isn’t worse. I find it telling that not a single one of these myriad other countries with UHC have moved back to a system like ours. And I keep coming back to the a) covers everyone, b) costs 50% less and c) holy shit did you see a and b?

    I think turning it over to the government is absolutely the way to go. There’s no way giving everyone some new form of Medicare would be worse than what we have now.

  8. Spoken like a true democrat – the government is the solution to all social and economic ills. I do support Universal Health Care which can be provided through private companies within the scope of federal guidelines and laws. This health care can be transferable between jobs and would eliminate employers as the major source health care coverage. The large, nationwide pool of insured will dilute the risk and likewise significantly reduce the premiums. This has been proven by comparing the rates for large companies (5000 or more employees) to small and mid-size companies. As a small business owner hunting for company health care insurance, I found that all you need is one or two employees out of twenty with heart problems or diabetes and the rates go through the roof. The underwriters for health care insurance in Wisconsin will not allow companies to pool together for better group rates. Living in Wisconsin, we are paying some of the highest health care rates in the nation ( why not – we pay some of the highest state and local taxes in the nation). The only two major underwriters in Wisconsin have very little competition.
    National (or socialized health care) run by the government may look financially appealing, but the quality of care along with the mountain of ridiculous rules that inevitably result from government run programs will result in something worse than what we have today (but cheaper). I’m basing this on extensive dealings with Medicare for elderly parents and the rush to push them out of hospitals and post-nursing care based on arbitrary rules and hospitals/physicians afraid to buck to these rules with common sense care. The only upside of Medicare is their cap on services (i.e.: an X-Ray originally billed at $160, Medicare pays $40 to the provider with no other cost to the insured.) These caps need to become part of any Universal Health Care system, rather than a “what ever the market will bear” approach based on individual state laws. Government is still not the answer unless you want a lower standard of health care, more bureaucracy and (of course) higher taxes.

  9. We don’t disagree on too much, Bill. I want to take the burden off employers and pool buying power (and risk) among very large groups of people (the entire state or the entire nation), and in so doing reduce costs dramatically and insure everyone in a comprehensive way.

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