Universal Health Care Series: The National Security Argument

This post is Part III in a series exploring reasons to support universal health care. You can find the other parts of the series here.

Fences and security checkpoints versus pathogens. David versus Goliath. While it seems that one side has the brute strength and power to counter the other, we all know how the second conflict ends.

The flu epidemic of 1918 killed one-fifth of the world’s population in about two years, resulting in more deaths from the epidemic than World War I. Our interconnected society makes epidemics more likely to occur with the ease of mobility within countries and in between them.

photo courtest of Daquella manera

photo courtesy of Daquella manera

A recent epidemic scare happened in 2007 when Andrew Speaker, after receiving a diagnosis of drug-resistant tuberculosis, proceeded to travel overseas and back on commercial flights for his wedding and honeymoon. Speaker was already out of the country when before authorities realized that he was infected with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, which is the most difficult strain to treat.

Fortunately, no one was infected; also fortunately, Speaker was diagnosed and authorities were informed that he was infected. Imagine what could have happened if Speaker could not have seen a doctor.

MRSA and other “superbugs” are becoming increasingly frequent. Avian flu and pandemic flu are also looming biological dangers.

Imagine a situation where a patient has a bacterial infection but never goes to see a doctor because they can not afford the visit. The patient would continue to pass through the general population, infecting others. Public health officials would have greater difficulty finding the source of the infection because there would be so many more cases.

Imagine a situation where a patient actually sees a doctor, but in a crowded emergency room. The doctor, overwhelmed with cases, quickly diagnoses the bacterial infection and prescribes penicillin. The patient takes the medication, but the bacteria becomes resistant to penicillin.  His condition worsens and he can spread a drug-resistant strain to others.

Imagine a situation caused that as a byproduct of his socioeconomic status, the patient lives in conditions that are ripe for the spread of infections: close quarters and poor ventilation. Poverty also compromises the strength of one’s immune system, leaving the body open to infections and once infected, the body can not fight infections well.

1) Universal health care provides a greater likelihood of early detection to curb infections before they grow too quickly. Early detection is a key advantage in controlling epidemics and preventing deaths. Earlier detection also helps to reduce the likelihood that drug-resistant strains develop in the general population.

2) Increasing access to health care allows health care professionals to identify patients at risk and intervene to offer ways to reduce the risk of infection.

3) Universal health care enables consistent access to proper treatment. Treating infections with the wrong medication or with an insufficient dosage can cause the pathogen to mutate, creating drug-resistant strains.

Preventing epidemics should be a priority of paramount concern if the government actually wants to ensure national security. Implementing universal health care is an important step in the right direction.


7 comments so far

  1. 365pwords on

    I’m with you Vanessa. I’ve written a lot about the public health approach to society’s problems – but it’s hard to get politicians to vote for prevention. Bandaids (prison, surgery, pills, emergency response) are much flashier… You get brownie points for swooping in with the rescue mission even though it’s ultimately much more expensive.

  2. Mike Fogel on

    The health industry is not one of my primary interests, but at the core I have always completely subscribed to the concept of universal healthcare, for some of the reasons you have outlined here, but almost more basically. Like you mentioned the Golden Rule, the healthier population and the saved overall health costs through prevention.

    But since I do not have the authority to decree universal healthcare, when I recently had to sign myself up for health insurance, through research and comparison I decided that an HSA was the best plan for me.

    So I’m wondering what is your opinion of HSAs from your more experienced perspective. Part of me wonders if I should feel guilty as a healthy young person for not contributing to the collective insurance pot. It also seemed to me to be kind of a partisan republican plot that sets up just another tax shelter (which being completely honest, is why I signed up for it).

    In the time between now and when more intelligent less greased-palms enact long overdue universal healthcare in America, is there a socially conscious choice for health insurance?

  3. Vanessa on

    @365pwords Unfortunately, flashy earns political capital and publicity. However, concerning at least health care, I think there are so many related reasons and issues that touch on key issues of political platforms across party lines that universal health care is going to happen. It is just unfortunate that it is taking so long.

    @Mike There is no socially conscious health care plan that I know about. I wonder why the insurance companies have not offered them. It is an obvious win from them because they have a happier consumer and get great PR.

    When I lived in DC, the water company would ask you if you wanted to contribute an extra dollar to help people living in poverty have better access to water. This would be easy to replicate with health insurance plans as well.

  4. Nathan on

    I agree that I’m not sure that there really is a great “socially conscious” plan from which to choose, but I’d also say (based on what many other much smatter people have found) that HSAs promote health less than other plans (they actually contain some key disincentives to seeking health care). And, they strive to be more market-driven than do other plans. By most health-policy people, HSAs are considered an option that moves us in the wrong direction, although they are arguably good for well-off and healthy individuals. But, again, do we want what is best for Me, or what is best for us?

  5. Vanessa on

    @Nathan I would say that is the principal problem when debating health care reform. There is still a lot of discussion about “Me” rather than “Us.” Think of the recent trend in going green. Environmentalists have done a superb job in making saving the planet good for “Us” and the responsibility of “Us.” Health care reform would greatly benefit from a chance in rhetoric to take advantage of collective responsibility and interest.

  6. Nathan on


  7. Mike Fogel on

    Well, thanks for the input. Looks like the best action for me to take is to more actively support universal healthcare.

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