Right thinking on Healthcare

I see this as the bravest statement made in the 2nd Obama-McCain debate:

I think [healthcare] should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills—for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.

Healthcare is something that no one truly wants any person to be without, but few politicians have the guts to declare it a right because of the fears surrounding the notion of “national healthcare” and the slippery slope towards socialism.

Some of the fears are warranted, such as that it can lead to the prohibition of being able to pay for faster/independent care. I see this as a major problem with Canada’s system, where waiting lists for procedures can be long. This law is probably designed to prevent the best talent from being siphoned off into exclusive care for the upper class, but it’s a problem nonetheless. The idea of waiting longer for care is also a problem, but I don’t know that it has a solution in any system where care or coverage is not flat out denied. If you walk into a doctor’s office and get immediate care, it’s less likely that everyone else is in your community is healthy and needs no preventative care, and more likely that obstacles are keeping others out of that office. Many people have chronic health problems and many more should be seeking preventative care; an overwhelmed system means people’s needs are being met, though maybe not to everyone’s complete satisfaction.

Neither Obama’s nor McCain’s plans are proposing such a national system, and those in fear of one should realize politics in the U.S. will never allow it (again, not necessarily a bad thing as these systems all have flaws), but more people need to be willing to admit there is a big problem with thinking healthcare is something individuals should be left to fight for in the open market, where a pre-existing condition can leave people with the choice between unaffordable premiums, high premiums with little coverage, or no coverage. Will the best care be given by a system whose top priority is serving anonymous stockholders, which is directly at odds with the delivery of care?

The conservative view seems to be that healthcare should be just another commodity in our lives. This is a policy that is much easier to embrace when you are far removed from those it affects negatively, and likely much harder to stomach when the consequences are personal. If you walked into a doctor’s office sick, would you be willing to pay someone a few dollars to have another sick person moved behind you in line? What about a child? Would it be fair if the others who walked in after you could afford to place you at the end of the line? Would it be fair if someone pointed out you had cancer three years ago so you must pay $1000 to keep your place in line? This is obviously a contrived situation, but it’s basically a localized analogy of care as a commodity; quality of care according to what you can afford. Of course, it would be a free market, so you would be free to go home, or to the office with the 5 hour waits and personal financing department.

One of the most popular arguments against government healthcare is that it would be as frustrating and inefficient as the DMV. I’ll agree that agencies like the DMV can be poorly operated, but this a better argument for their privatization (which would probably be an OK idea) than against healthcare’s. There’s also plenty of frustrating aspects of our healthcare system as it exists now, to which those who have to fight their HMO’s for coverage will attest. When it comes down to it, I think this argument fails because the DMV is a relatively minor frustration, and at the end of the day everyone gets their license and gets on with life for a few more years; not everyone is getting the care they need without crowding out ERs or bankrupting their familes.

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