Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rambling About Universal Health Care

If what I'm reading in the newspaper and from new sources online, it would seem as if the hot button issue for the 2008 Presidential election will be improving our health care system. All the current Democratic candidates have announced their support for universal health care, though none yet have outlined any specific plans. Even President Bush mentioned improving the health care system in his State of the Union address, though his ideas on this issue were inadequate.

Currently, 46 million Americans are uninsured, with most of these being low wage workers, those working for small businesses, and/or many self-employed people. Working Americans with insurance get it largely through their employers,with relatively few buying their own insurance privately. Employer-provided insurance comes from numerous insurance companies, with the plans varying widely in cost and quality.

Those against universal health care insist that it's "socialized medicine" and that it doesn't work, pointing to Canada as a typical example, citing long waits for major medical procedures. To that I'd say, better to wait than not to get to see the doctor at all!

Americans without insurance, who typically work for low wages and/or for small businesses tend not to go to the doctor for routine, preventive care because they can't afford it. They go to the doctor only for things that won't go away on their own and for life-threatening problems. Many times, these problems could have been avoided by preventive care, which would have been much less expensive.

The same opponents also advise those without insurance to simply buy their own. Again, low wage workers cannot afford the high costs of buying health insurance privately. I was listening to a local talk show on the radio and this one man says it costs him 800 dollars a month each for him and his wife to buy their own insurance, and this was a childless couple. Add the costs of insuring children, and this would be more than many people make in a month.

Another caller said that the uninsured should just "save up" for their future health care costs. Yeah, right -- now THAT'S a practical plan when the bill for many types of major surgery and for chronic illnesses can be well over a hundred thousand dollars and then some.

Still another caller, said that he thought there should be health insurance for everyone, but that they should have to "work for it", that it shouldn't just be "given to them". I thought to myself, "Why not"? Isn't access to decent health care a human right?

I think that one's health insurance shouldn't be tied to their employment. For one thing, it limits the freedom of workers -- many, many people are stuck in demeaning, deadening jobs because they can't afford to quit. They stay for the health insurance. At my last job, there were several workers still working well beyond retirement age into their seventies, so that their disabled spouses could continue to have access to decent health care.

Employer provided insurance also means fewer jobs available, as employers will operate with fewer permanent employees and more contract, temporary workers as a way to cut costs, as they don't have to provide health insurance to temps. If the health insurance monkey was taken off the backs of employers, I think we'd see them employing more permanent employees.

I've read claims that a single insurance source would be cheaper and more efficient in the long run than the patchwork system we have now. It's certainly worth a try.

At the very least, Medicaid could be extended to low-wage workers whose employers do not provide health insurance, as a stopgap measure, while a better, more permanent universal health care program is being worked out.

Universal health care, like universal education, is a wise investment, as healthy, educated Americans tend to make positive contributions to our economy and society, where sick and uneducated ones do not. The best measure of the greatness of a society is not in how its most fortunate members live, but, rather, in how the least of its citizens do.


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