The Importance of Health Care for All

Whether or not we have universal health care is a moral issue. A society that allows someone to die of a treatable condition because he can’t afford insurance cannot be called moral, no matter how many go to church. And that, along with a great many other moral evils, is what is happening today.

We must answer a few questions. What does equality mean? Should everyone have health care? What is the best way to pay for health care? How can we control health care costs?

We cannot argue, as certain conservatives do, that everyone should be responsible for his own health care, because there are many reasons that is not always possible, and none of them have to do with all-too-common racist assumptions about working ethic and the like. There have always been millions of people who can’t afford health care. With the present economic crisis, this number increased as the recession deepened.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of formerly salaried, now unemployed, people who didn’t believe in the necessity of universal health care, but then lost their jobs and their health care coverage with it, have now changed their minds.

For society at large not to help people who have no place else to turn goes against everything moral and religious that conservatives have said determines the quality of our lives and the state of our souls. Conservatives cannot justifiably speak of morals and responsibility while at the same time supporting conditions that spell early death for someone who can’t afford health care.

Resolution of the question of health care relies on how we define the equality that is part and parcel of the American ideal. What it does not mean is that all persons’ abilities are equal. That would seem to be self-evident, although there are some who say that’s what liberals want to force on them.

Equality has three primary elements, in my opinion. Equal treatment before the law. Equal opportunity in all its manifestations. Equal social treatment. Notice that none of these have to do with wealth. No one says everyone must earn the same income.

Equal treatment before the law means that there must be no special treatment for or against any person with respect to civil or criminal law. No person who breaks a law should be exempt from the consequences. Nor should any group be punished simply for who they are, as has happened repeatedly in our past. Jim Crow laws punished African-Americans for many decades. Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to concentration camps during WWII. Today we have politicians proposing various idiotic laws having to do with Muslims.

Equality of opportunity is profoundly difficult to define and achieve, but also of paramount importance. What it means to me is that every newborn child must be given all the benefits of society that accrue to every other child, and that equality must continue throughout life. In health care at the beginning, this means childhood inoculations, regular medical monitoring, adequate nutrition, and much more. It means every child should go to school; it does not mean that every child should go to an expensive private school.

Equal social treatment means first and foremost that each person, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and so on, is entitled to the same respect and social service as every other person. It also means that each person is also responsible for the choices he or she makes, and the consequences on his or her life. For the present discussion, society owes it to the individual to be sure her medical care is not slighted.

Argument against socialized medicine as a rallying point to deny health care is morally wrong. I suspect such denunciation is strongest among those who already have socialized health care in the form Medicare, Medicaid, “Obamacare”, or just group insurance for a large group.

I don’t believe that congress understands the importance of national health care for the simple reason that all of them are given very good coverage as members of congress. Socialized health care. So, who should vote on health care coverage, congress or the American people? An enlightened electorate, of course.

So-called socialized medicine is nothing like “Socialism”, defined as a Marxist society like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in which the government owns and controls everything. The USSR was a dismal failure that fell apart in 1989. The very successful national health plans in Europe and elsewhere are what we should look at. No nation that adopts a national health plan is on the slippery slope to socialism that so many conservatives say they fear. They have been saying this for 155 years, while the entire development of the USSR came and went in half that time.

Preventive care is by far the most medically effective and cost-effective medical “treatment”. For this reason, it must be not only covered, but must become a central part of any national health plan. Providers should be paid on salary. That way, how well they keep people healthy counts as much as treatment when disease is found.

How far can we go before health care costs outrun our ability as a nation to pay for them? In the best European systems, there are few significant treatments, if any, that are denied. Most people in most countries that have national health care are very satisfied with it. France has the best health care system in the world.

Almost a third of our health care bill is absorbed by insurance companies. Absolutely none of this money actually provides health care. It goes for paperwork and profit. Under a national plan, all this loss would be unnecessary. Insurance companies can therefore be relied on to oppose national health care.

New doctors enter their practice with a debt of several hundred thousand dollars hanging over their heads. This keeps them in debt for years and makes high income mandatory. Far better would be a system in which they take on no such debt. It would be better for all doctors to be trained at public expense, thus eliminating post-training debt, and allowing lifelong pay to be more closely calibrated to their calling. As I said, they should be well compensated, but their income need not be so high that they are the most well paid group in the country. Doctors take on a profound trust to serve their patients, not to become rich at the public’s expense.

The last practical reason for national health care I will mention is that American corporations, which presently bear the cost of health insurance, compete in the world market against companies that don’t pay for this insurance because they have less expensive national health care.

The philosopher John Rawls said we should evaluate the fairness of any policy based on the assumption that we don’t know whether we personally will benefit from it. I don’t believe it’s possible to say that our current system is fair. I hope that the conservatives who believe that allowing millions to go without medical care is somehow fair will take a more dispassionate look.

We cannot lay claim to being a great nation while the quality and universality of our medical care is so sadly lacking. It must become as good as the best of other industrialized nations, all of which have universal health care.

The debate over health care insurance is one of the most important of our age, and should be discussed at length and repeatedly by all parts of society. Your thoughtful comments, for or against, are most welcome.

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Published in: on 2011/05/15 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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