Universal Health Care Series: The Inevitability Argument

This post is Part V in a series exploring reasons to support universal health care.

It would be nice if we could wave a bureaucratic magic wand to make problems go away. It would be even nicer if the antidote to the health care crisis was strengthening the freedom of choice that the market affords and if this actually led to greater equality. Unfortunately, freedom and equality are a bit like oil and vinegar; they don’t mix especially well.

I know that I am not old enough to remember Hillary Clinton’s campaign to reform the health care system. But the video below brings back some characters familiar to many of you.

Harry and Louise fought to hold on to the health care system in 1993. Fifteen years later, those same characters lament their short-sightedness. Do we want to be in Harry and Louise’s shoes 15 years from now? The current system is on a collision course for failure; it is just a matter of when.

Growth in health care costs consistently outpace the rate of inflation, yet consumers have little to show for the money spent. Health insurance companies continue to find technicalities and other superficial reasons to deny care to consumers who pay the high premiums. People are being left behind with little or no coverage. God forbid you have a preexisting condition, especially a chronic one. The safety net for children’s health and safety has almost disappeared. With the current administration’s implicit blessing for increased privatization, doctors are dropping off the Medicare rolls. Even supposedly non-for-profit health systems are wolves in sheep’s clothing, often driving up the costs of care.

While individuals fare progressive worse under the private health care system, pharmaceutical companies have never been better. For all the supposed motivation the free market give them to engage in research and development, it appears that plastering their logos from here to Timbuktu is more of a financial priority. When you consider the human cost of these lopsided priorities (high drug costs, overprescription, and decreased medical research in the private sector), you have to wonder why people are fighting so hard to keep privatized health care. Who do you think the consumer will want to clean up the mess?

4 comments so far

  1. Pamela. on

    I am an R.N that left clinical nursing in 1990 but have maintained my license and continued to be involved in the healthcare sector. I was a critical care nurse when managed care was just starting out in the mid-80’s.

    I recently worked in administration for a non-profit hospital system. Seeing the current system from the inside and speaking with physicians and nurses, I truly cannot believe where we are as a nation and as a society.

    We are squandering the amazing minds and clinical resources that have always been the core of what made our healthcare system strong. They are caught in a stranglehold of greed and bureaucracy. Yes, there is also a level of personal responsibility to be held by the public, however the public and the healthcare sector are also inextricably – and inter-dependently – linked.

    When a medical device sales person draws a higher salary than the Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon that uses that device to save lives, there is something terribly wrong. When millions of dollars are spent on ineffective marketing by a non-profit hospital while quality goes down the tubes and their emergency room is jam packed with the uninsured that don’t have access to the basic resources to maintain their health – something is terribly wrong.

    I can go on with more and more examples, many of which you have covered very well in your writing.

    Thank you for the work you are doing!

  2. Milena Thomas on

    Ack! Please don’t call the current system privatized, it is so far from it.

  3. Milena Thomas on

    I should clarify what I mean: the system is only partly-privatized. You cannot ignore the impact of poor government policies such as entitlements, disadvantageous tax laws taking the benefit away from individuals, and regulations that are costly to adhere to and many times unecessary, and in rare, horrible cases, life-threatening.

    Additionally, issues unrelated to health care’s partially-private status: you have to also take into consideration tort law and the unique US litigious society. Also, a discussion on how prices for care are formed – you cannot create an artificial price for a CAT Scan, MRI, or doctor’s expertise.

  4. Vanessa on

    @Pamela Thank you for your compliments. It is a bit of a chicken and the egg problem. The public is both a victim and complicit in the failure of the system. I think we are at the point where there is enough critical mass that people are willing to make some real changes and therefore sacrifices. It is just a shame that is took this long.

    @Milena I agree that you can’t ignore entitlements. Entitlement spending inherently grows when nothing is done to address the source of the need for the spending (eg. poverty) nor anything in the way of cost containment (eg. prevention). American society is overly litigious. I think that the answer is not limiting tort case awards but rather implementing arbitration to evaluate the merits of cases on the facts before using valuable court time and resources on a full trial. Frivolous lawsuits drive up the price of malpractice insurance for medical professionals.

    I’m not sure how to go about determining prices for care. In theory, patents are issued for new drugs for x years so that pharma can both recuperate the cost of R&D and turn a profit. I am not saying that this still shouldn’t occur. I have worked as a research assistant for a pharmaceutical company. R&D is expensive and time-consuming. I do think that it might be better to shorten the time limit of patents. Right now there is nothing to stop Merck, for example, charging several hundred dollars for a cervical cancer vaccine for years.


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