Inequality in the US: (4) Health Care

Now let’s talk about another basic right, yet another one that Republicans do their best to deny to as many citizens as they can: health care.

Health care is a basic right in a modern democratic society, as is retirement income. It’s not a luxury, or a frill. Everyone will need professional health care at various times during their lives, and universal health care benefits the nation in numerous ways. It is essential, and should be available to everyone regardless of their income. There should be no one who is unable to obtain professional treatment for a health problem as needed, no matter how large or how small that problem is.

Health care is a basic right
in a modern democratic society.

Consider the following situation.

Penicillin came on the market in the 1930s, and remains one of the most useful and powerful medicines of all time. It and its successors are still standard treatment for a wide variety of conditions today. The current cost of treatment with one of these miracle drugs is roughly five dollars, practically a pittance—unless you are poor.

Now, suppose a very poor person, a person who can never afford even the luxury of a cup of brewed coffee at a café, came to a medical facility with a seriously infected cut on his leg. If this infection is not treated, there is a chance it will cost this person his foot, and maybe his life. Yet the essential Republican position is that this person does not deserve treatment with the inexpensive life saver that’s been readily available for over 80 years because he is black and lazy. Needless to say, this position is amoral and thoroughly un-Christian, not to mention that statistically this person is not likely to be black or lazy. Regardless, the social cost of not treating this person is far higher than the five bucks or more it would cost to cure him, even if he should require hospitalization.

In places like Haiti and many of the poorest African nations, people contact common diseases that are easily and inexpensively treated, but they die because they cannot afford even a treatment costing pennies. The US is the only advanced nation in which it is possible for a poor person to die from a simple but untreated condition because even basic medical treatment is unaffordable and unobtainable.

Serious conditions are a death sentence to the uninsured, who will either be unable to get treatment, or their treatment is so delayed that the condition is worsened. Deaths have in the recent past been estimated at over a hundred daily because of lack of medical insurance, each of which costs the country a substantial amount in dollars and lost production and costs the family and community much more in lost wellbeing.

The success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, “Obamacare”) provides resounding proof of the need for affordable care. There is simply no rational reason to believe that health care should not be available to all. It costs more to not provide it than to provide it.

The success of  “Obamacare”
provides resounding proof
of the need for affordable care.

Moreover, the conservative belief that our system of private care is not only adequate but “the best in the world” is nonsense no matter how you look at it. It costs nearly twice as much as the best systems in the world. A comparison of costs in several countries puts US prices at the very top, costing significantly more for virtually every service. Nor is our medical demography any better. We lag behind in life expectancy, have far too high a rate of problem births, and have very high rates of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and a number of other things. We are definitely not Number One.

The conservative Republican fear is that national health care will somehow “march us straight into Socialism”. Conservatives have been claiming that we are “marching straight into Socialism” every year since 1856, yet somehow, after 158 years of marching, Socialism is not even on the horizon. It simply is not “Socialism” to provide universal medical care, no matter how many times Republicans claim it is. Socialism is a system in which the government owns everything, including the medical structure. Think Cuba, the USSR, China. That definition does not remotely apply to the advanced nations that have national medical insurance, all of which are regularly judged to be better than our system.

Some Republicans have said that the poor don’t need health insurance because they can always go to the Emergency Room. It should not be necessary to inform them that the Emergency Room treats emergencies, but apparently it is. ER is not health care. Moreover, treatment of emergencies requires 24/7 services of highly trained medical personnel, an expensive physical plant, and trained transportation crews with specialized vehicles to bring in the patients. A sore throat would cost to treat as much as a compound fracture.

It should not be necessary to
inform Republicans that
the Emergency Room
treats emergencies.

Why national health care? Because it’s the most effective and efficient system possible. Nearly a third of our medical costs are paid to insurance companies, and have nothing whatever to do with health care. Costs where doctors are paid per service have the highest costs in the world.

Failure to protect the health of all citizens does not save money. Huge sums are pointlessly lost when workers’ untreated illnesses keep them from working, spread contagion, cause long-lasting changes to their health, and maybe cause them to lose their jobs or become chronically ill and unable to work. The malaise affects the whole family, and can easily burn through all their savings and cost them everything they own. Among the poor, a single serious medical condition can destroy the future of the entire family for at least a generation.

Medical bankruptcy is the most common kind of family financial disaster in the US, but medical bankruptcy does not exist in first world countries with a good national health care system. It only happens in the US.

The alternative to national health care is the highly expensive and uneconomical system we have now, a system in some ways no better than the non-system of a Third World nation. If we are to have a nation with any semblance of equality, health care for all citizens must be an essential part of it.

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