Opposition to universal health care is generally based on two assumptions: that it unavoidably leads to higher taxes and that any concept of a “right to health care” has no basis in law.
As to the tax question, there is ample evidence that universal health care will reduce taxes for a variety of reasons. In the U.S., public spending on health care accounts for 11.2 percent of GDP, compared with 8.4 percent for Germany and 7.3 percent for Switzerland, both of which offer high-quality universal health care. Among other factors, having expecting mothers, children and adults with health issues visiting health care providers at the earliest opportunities makes for far less expensive and more effective treatments, reducing the need for taxpayer-subsidized care later. Also, having as many U.S. citizens as possible paying into the health care system, at one level or another, would directly reduce the need for government subsidies. Since today’s insurance premiums are substantially inflated as a direct consequence of unpaid medical services, insurance premiums will see significant reductions as well. Overall, countries offering universal health care spend substantially less than the U.S. on health care.
Some will argue that health care is a personal responsibility and not a “right” in any sense. But in the U.S., rights are established and codified by the democratic process. There never was a right to free speech until Congress passed and the states ratified the First Amendment. Similarly, Congress could well establish that every U.S. citizen has a basic right to access medical care. We actually already have a de facto right because few hospitals or physicians will turn away anyone seeking emergency medical care, even when payment for treatment is doubtful. Universal health care guarantees every American’s right to access timely health care simply by guaranteeing payment, which would no doubt drive much needed reforms in our chaotic system. One such reform would be to eliminate thousands of clerical personnel whose work for medical service providers and insurers is directly tied to determining what treatments may be excluded under highly variable insurance policies.
Universal health care should be one of the least controversial issues in American politics. Conservatives favor economic efficiencies and lower taxation, whereas liberals tend to favor equal rights for all, including health care. Universal health care would turn both preferences into reality. We know that because numerous developed countries have already proven that universal health care leads to greater efficiency, lower premiums and better outcomes. While some nations base their system on private insurance markets, whereby consumers select their coverage from a number of approved insurers, other countries use single-payer systems managed by the government or hybrid private-public entities.
There can be no doubt that universal health care offers a better approach than what currently passes for our health care “system.” The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was an attempt to bring increased sanity to that system, but given the ideological divide in Congress, no one should have been surprised that the outcome was far from perfect. Since a repeal of Obamacare appears driven primarily by long-held political dogma, neither should anyone be surprised that the proposed replacement — the American Health Care Act — will likely make things worse. That offers up an opportunity for the U.S. Senate to make history by devising a common-sense universal health care system to put this highly divisive issue to bed once and for all.
Whatever the eventual outcome in the Senate, if it’s not universal health care in one way or another, many Americans still will — or again — be disadvantaged through absolutely no fault of their own. Whereas few Americans would argue that full equality at birth is an un-American concept or that access to health care should be directly tied to financial capacity, there can be little doubt that most Americans would favor a health care system that increases efficiency, reduces costs and optimizes outcomes. If we can all agree on those values, universal health care should be as treasured as our right to free speech.
Bob Ziegelaar is a business consultant who has been engaged in a number of private and public enterprises. He has served on Eastern Maine Medical Center’s board of trustees for the past two years. His comments are entirely his own and not those of EMMC nor any other entity with which he may have an affiliation.