The Moral Case For Universal Healthcare
Americans are privileged to live in the wealthiest society on Earth. Despite an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, long-stagnant wages and rising discontent, we still enjoy a standard of living comparable to or better than conditions in similarly industrialized economies. Yet, we starkly differ from our similarly wealthy neighbors such as Canada and Europe in how we choose to utilize that wealth. This is most clearly demonstrated in the realm of healthcare – where Europeans and Canadians are guaranteed government-provided medical coverage from birth, Americans are subjected to the whims of profit-driven private insurers, if they can afford to partake in this badly broken system at all.
The moral case for universal coverage is clear. Just as we as a society ensure the maintenance of robust institutions geared toward minimizing damage to our neighbors – think police and firefighters – so too we have a responsibility to ensure their protection in a medical sense. In an advanced society such as ours, no one should experience preventable suffering. As it stands today, Americans who cannot afford rapidly rising coverage costs live in fear of sustaining an unexpected injury and racking up thousands of dollars in emergency room fees. But truth be told, even covered individuals are not entirely “safe.”
After being violently attacked in Austin, Texas this past January, Scott Kohan was treated for a broken jaw at the Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin. Upon regaining consciousness, Kohan did his due diligence, ensuring that his Humana coverage considered Dell Seton in-network. Unbeknownst to him, the oral surgeon contracted by the hospital was in fact not included in Humana’s network – a common practice nationwide. Only when Vox News publicized the incident did the hospital agree to negate the $7,924.13 charge. But what are the millions of uninsured or underprotected Americans who won’t make the front page expected to rely on?
Stories like Scott’s are far from uncommon – we’ve all seen the GoFundMe campaigns raising money for cancer treatments and felt a little bit uneasy. Having worked in an emergency room, I can confirm the almost-paralyzing anxiety that patients experience when informed about expected costs.
The mysterious and exorbitant treatment prices hospitals devize – charging hundreds for a Band-Aid or an Aspirin, or in one California case, $25,000 for an MRI – are here to stay unless we take direct action. One national insurer representing 320 million Americans would have the capability to negotiate fair reimbursement rates while ensuring that fears of doctors’ bills would be a thing of the past.
But even outside of our moral obligation to care for our neighbors, a universal, single-payer system makes a great deal of economic sense. Opponents of a national healthcare system claim that the invisible hand of the market would alleviate healthcare costs on its own – ignoring the fact that unregulated insurers gave us such wonderful developments as coverage denials for customers with pre-existing conditions and complex hospital network systems.
But how can we afford to cover the entire country? This question was recently tackled by none other than the Mercatus Center, a libertarian, Koch brothers-funded think tank (in other words, the last organization one would expect to deal with such an issue). The research team set out to declare that Medicare for All would be a wildly expensive proposition, flooding the media with headlines touting findings indicating that federal health expenditures would rise to $32.6 trillion over ten years under such a plan.
And at first, this plan was successful – reputable media outlets reported the story as Mercatus intended it to be described. Yet when the paper was published, Matt Breunig of the Peoples’ Policy Center noted that the paper did not distinguish between government healthcare spending (the value that would rise) and national healthcare spending (the amount we as a country spend in private and public systems combined). When he examined Mercatus’s findings more thoroughly, Breunig discovered that the paper buried the lede – Mercatus had in fact found a $2 trillion dollar savings in national healthcare spending (born out of further administrative efficiencies and lower treatment prices, even when broader system usage is considered). The necessary increase in individual tax rates for a functioning healthcare system would in fact be a sum significantly smaller than their current coverage expenditures.
Although Breunig was able to correct the record in the national media, this incident reveals the great lengths single-payer opponents go to disparage the single-payer healthcare as expensive and inefficient.
Nevertheless, the American public broadly supports universal healthcare (70% of the country, 84.5% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans, as of August). Though the current administration resists the will of its citizens, the upcoming election gives us an opportunity to bend the arc of history towards a moral conclusion. Let’s not waste it.
Photo Caption: The American public broadly supports universal healthcare
Photo Credit: Google Images