People in countries with universal health care live longer and healthier lives than people in the United States. Their infant mortality rates are lower. No one goes bankrupt or loses their home because of unpaid medical bills. No one has to make a choice between food and medicine or between rent and health insurance payments. No one has to put off going to the doctor because it’s too expensive. Changing jobs doesn’t mean losing or changing medical coverage. Losing a job doesn’t mean losing medical coverage.
Universal health care even mitigates the costs of malpractice insurance: a big chunk of many malpractice awards goes toward future medical costs, and with universal health care, those costs are already covered.
So what’s the down side? Opponents of universal health care will tell you about waiting lists and inferior medical services. They’ll bring up the spectre of “socialised medicine,” which is meant to make you think of some faceless Soviet-style bureaucrat ordering you to see some poorly-trained doctor in some bleak clinic.
They’ll tell you that the “free market,” the system under which profits depend in part on withholding medical services from participants or refusing participation to people with the greatest needs, is the best way to ensure that everyone gets the care they need.
They’ll tell you this with a straight face, in the face of 50 million uninsured Americans, in the face of life expectancies three years shorter than those in other developed countries (and Cuba), in the face of infant mortality rates anywhere from 20-50% higher than those in other developed countries.
They’ll tell you that the U.S. has the finest health care system in the world; something which, if true, would mean that Americans are simply physically inferior to those longer-lived and healthier Canadians and French and Cubans.
It’s almost true: the U.S. has the finest health care infrastructure in the world, with the best equipment and a plentiful supply of well-trained doctors and other medical personnel. It’s just that many Americans can’t afford to get in the door.
Polls consistently show that a large majority of Americans support the idea of taxpayer-supported universal health care even if it means higher taxes — anywhere from 60%-80%, depending upon how the question is phrased. So why don’t we have it?
We don’t have it because a very small minority of people pay our elected officials a very large amount of money to kill any attempt at implementing a sane national health care policy.
I say “a very large amount of money,” but in reality it’s just a fraction of what the health care industry receives in return for their investment: they spend a few hundred million on campaign contributions and lobbying, and they get tens of billions in return, from tax breaks, subsidies and the opportunity to continue racking up very tidy profits at the expense of consumers, both the ones they serve and the ones they don’t.
Michael Moore’s Sicko, a film about health care, premiers tomorrow. Moore intends the film as a call to action. The representatives and beneficiaries of the system he attacks will be pushing back, hard. But if some significant number of that majority of Americans who support national health care push back in their own turn, Moore will have started a fight that we can win.
During the next few days we’ll be taking a look at some of the realities of national health care in other countries, and how and why the U.S. can both emulate and surpass those systems, and we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the issues raised in Moore’s film, which go beyond the purely medical impact of national health care.
Meanwhile, go catch Sicko when it opens near you.
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