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Saturday, March 20, 2010

It Is Time For The Silent Majority To Speak Up In Favor Of Healthcare Reform

The debate surrounding the healthcare overhaul effort in the US seems to have been monopolized by a few noisy people. These people have turned their opposition to the effort into concerted, mean-spirited, blatantly misleading, and sometimes outright false bashing of healthcare reform. I am not a political person, but the process has disgusted even me.

So, I have decided that I am not going to remain silent about it anymore. I am going to put forth my arguments for the effort. I am hoping that more people will follow my example and start making some noise in favor of the effort, so that the screaming minority does not drown out the majority of people who are in favor of this long-overdue overhaul.

That the healthcare system in the US requires an overhaul seems to be beyond question. It has become expensive, and practically unaffordable to most people. It has gone up in cost much faster than inflation or even GDP. It leaves huge segments of the population uninsured and unable to get even the most basic healthcare.

And in spite of being the most expensive system in the world, the healthcare system of Americans ranks near the bottom of the heap in the world. Take a look at this list for instance, put out by WHO ranking the performance of the health systems of its 191 member countries. The US ranks at number 37 in the world on that list. In this 2006 Gallup survey of adults from 132 countries, the authors make the following observation:

Almost all the inhabitants of high income countries are well-satisfied with their health care and medical systems; that the United States is an exception in this regard is well-known. Davis et al. (2007) find that while the United States does not lag in the effectiveness of healthcare, but does so in other dimensions such as equity, access, and safety.

The US ranks number 38 in the world in life expectancy, well behind countries like Japan and most western European countries, according to this Wikipedia article. The US does not compare favorably against other advanced countries in infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, child mortality rates and various other measures of health outcomes either. The US also has the highest rates of adult obesity and obesity-related illnesses in the world. Obesity may not be directly related to healthcare quality or availability, but it is indirectly related to the lack of or lack of affordability of preventive health services in the US.

So, what is the argument for not jettisoning the current healthcare system and putting in place something that actually works? The opponents of healthcare reform cite two predominant reasons for opposing this. The first is that this would "socialize" healthcare in the US, and foster a "government takeover" of healthcare in this country. The second reason is they claim is that they don't want government bureaucrats making healthcare decisions for them.

Both of these reasons are patently false, and quite absurd. First of all, the healthcare reform proposals on the table right now are quite modest. They are nothing akin to a government takeover of the healthcare system of the US. I would certainly not consider it a socialization of the healthcare system.

The opponents of healthcare overhaul claim that in a market-driven economy, a government-run healthcare system has no place. I am all for market economics, but what if the system has been given a chance for several decades and simply does not work. As Einstein once put it, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Why should we continue doing the same thing with our healthcare system and expect different results in the future?

Now, I am all for market economics as a good start for almost everything. I do believe that it is superior to other systems like socialism or communism in almost every case. But, I am not blind to its faults, like some people seem to be. Healthcare is one area in which market forces have failed miserably. Every advanced country in the world, with the notable exception of the US, has a national healthcare system. It is a system that has been proven to work while the market-driven approach tried by the US is a system that has been proven not to work.

So what if healthcare is socialized or taken over by the government because of this reform? I would rather have a working, socialized healthcare system than a broken, dysfunctional, market-driven healthcare system. It is as simple as that.

I also don't understand why healthcare should be any different from basic education or other functions that nobody has any problem allowing the government to do. Who decided it was OK to socialize national defense instead of having everyone pay for their own private armed protection force? Who decided it was OK to have public schools in the US? It is OK for the government to provide these services because they are such basic and essential parts of a civilized government. Nobody considers a country socialist just because it has a government-run military, or government-run schools and universities, or a government-run legal system. Healthcare is basic and essential at that level, and it is high time the government took over the function. Better late than never, I say!

And just as there are both public schools and private schools in the US, there will be both a government-run health system and a private system in the US. If you can afford it, nobody is going to prevent you from paying for your own healthcare instead of getting it through the government for free.

The argument that a government takeover would put government bureaucrats in charge of healthcare decisions is quite laughable at best. I guess it is time to let the secret out and inform these people that health insurance companies have bureaucrats too. These bureaucrats are making healthcare decisions for them whether they like it or not. And these bureaucrats are not motivated by government policies that are aimed at making healthcare accessible and equal to all. They are motivated by their employers' bottomlines. I would rather have government bureaucrats in charge of my healthcare than a bunch of pencil-pushers at money-grubbing, profiteering health insurance companies.

Even though I am in favor of the healthcare overhaul efforts being discussed in Congress right now, I consider the proposals there to be nothing but a first step. The long term and only viable solution to the healthcare problem in this country is to have a government-run single-payer system paid for with taxes. Every advanced, industrialized country on the planet has such a system except the United States.

The obligation of employers to provide health insurance to their employees has placed a financial burden on them, and made them less competitive against their competitors in other industrialized countries. The inability of most citizens to afford private health insurance on their own places immense stress on them, forcing them to choose between healthcare and other essentials like rent and food. It has also made unemployment much more stressful than it needs to be.

There is only one winner in this entire system, and that is the health insurance industry that operates for profit in a marketplace that explicitly allows insurance companies not to compete with each other due to antitrust exemptions. If this system is truly driven by market forces, I don't know what dream-world the proponents of this system are living in. No wonder these companies make multi-billion dollar profits each year and pay their executives multi-million dollar bonuses while ordinary Americans can not afford to see a doctor because of the exorbitant costs.

Yes, I want a government takeover of healthcare in this country. We have been guinea pigs in a failed experiment to harness market forces for providing quality and affordable healthcare in this country for the past several decades. Now it is time to jettison this garbage and implement something that has been proven to work in dozens of countries around the world. It is time for a single-payer national health system like other civilized countries have.

I urge everyone who reads this to call or email their congressperson in support of healthcare overhaul legislation. I am sure the vast majority of Americans know in their heart of hearts that the current system is unworkable and unsustainable. They have been silent because of the half-truths and lies spread by the noisy minority to derail the process and keep the status quo. They have been silenced by the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) spread by the well-funded opponents of the effort. These efforts are funded by health insurance companies and other beneficiaries of the current system.

I am not willing to be silent anymore. I hope more people decide not to remain silent either. And I hope that when more people get involved in the process, the majority will not be pushed around and bullied into silence, but will challenge the minority with hard questions and the truth about our current system.

It is time for the majority of Americans to see through the smoke and mirrors, and have their voice heard. If the majority of Americans are in fact not in favor of healthcare reform, if they are in fact in favor of the current system where millions of their fellow Americans live in fear of losing their job, or have to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table, and filling a prescription because they can not get or afford health insurance, it would indeed be a sad reflection on the values of America and Americans. I can only hope that is not the case.

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