Health care will be a prominent issue in the forthcoming Presidential election. Universal coverage has been a continual debate between Democrats and Republicans for years now and reached its apex in 1994 when President Clinton’s proposal failed to transcend the Capitol building. Since then, Congress has enacted a series of legislation to expand coverage for some children and people who lose or switch jobs. Despite this expansion, and the recent GOP hollow prescription drug bill, the National Academy of Sciences (an independent, nonpartisan body chartered by Congress) called for Universal Health Care by 2010 just two weeks ago (http://www.iom.edu/uninsured).The Academy’s report summarized three years of research by a panel of fifteen experts. It concluded that universal coverage is an achievable and important goal which politicians should accept as inevitable and vital to the nation. It also delivered some remarkable estimates. The economic cost to the country from poor health and premature deaths of uninsured citi-zens is between 65 and 130 billion dollars a year. Also, an estimated 18,000 people die each year as a result of not having health insur-ance.
While the report did not lay out an exact plan for government transition, it did make five proposed solutions to guide the course of policy. They are: that health care coverage should be universal, coverage should be continuous, it should be affordable to individuals and families, it should be affordable and sustainable for society, and that it should enhance national health and well-being by being accessible and high-quality.
America today has approximately forty-five million uninsured citizens, a number which has steadily risen since the current administration took office. Additionally, thirty million people are partially or under-insured. The United States is the only industrialized, free country in the world to not provide health insurance to its population. The consequences are undeniable. Citizens of western Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada all have longer life spans resulting from their accessibility health care. And why shouldn’t they? A nation as well-off, or-ganized and “civilized” as Great Britain should protect its people, not just from terrorism or crime, but from disease and poverty. The government’s business is to protect its constituents; and if its people cannot afford extremely high health care prices, despite their relative affluence in the world, then the government should interfere on behalf of those it represents. Why then does the United States, and specifically the Republican party, continue to evade this issue?
The party of George Bush does not generally believe in “state welfare,” and healthcare is customarily seen as a form of welfare, in that it aids those who need help. The GOP is also the party which large insurance companies supply with colossal donations. The two support each other, with the blocking of legislation and monetary support. The GOP also touts individual responsibility, which, translated into context means, if you can afford health care then you deserve it, and if you cannot then you deserve to go wanting. A belief structure like this seems pragmatic when applied to functioning adults; however, to punish a child for being born into a poor or lower middle class household by denying him or her healthcare is absurd. Conservatives would condemn the parents as having made the mistake of bearing children they could not properly support.
However, by denying healthcare, the government is not punishing the parents, it is only punishing the innocents, or at least admonishing the parents through the child’s ill-being. This system of ignoring poverty and poverty’s root by depriving basic foundations of possibility is not the road any civilized nation should follow. This economically Darwinian approach is barbarianism in action. It is the equivalent of a nomadic tribe leaving a parentless infant on the path’s edge in the name of simplicity. It is morally unequivocal in its disharmony with all religions and ethical teachings and contrary to the classical American philosophies of defending the population and providing “for the general welfare,” as attested in the Preamble to the Constitution.
Programs like Medicare and Medicaid, initiated under JohnsonÃ¸s “great society,” were progressive for their era but are rapidly becom-ing antiquated. They discount too many and have proven their un-countable weaknesses since their inception forty years ago. Many additions and modifications have been implemented to expand the coverage, but this incrementalist approach has not blanketed the na-tion and is quite inefficient in government spending. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has noted that the U.S. pays more of its national GNP in percentages for programs like Medicare and Medicaid (prices which will only rise after the “baby boomers” retire) than Canada pays for a universal system. It is like having a table with three good legs and a makeshift fourth leg built of matchsticks. Every minute addition or alteration is just another matchstick to the stopgap leg. From some judgements, they add to the stability of the table, dissuading a complete collapse. More reasonable thought however, would decry the matchsticks since they only delay the true solution; a new leg needs to be built to insure a stable surface. The band-aid proposals of the past, meant to quell the symptoms of a sickening nation, have hardly cured the disease. Health care should not be a luxury. The health of a nation must be a priority for a competent government. If tax payers are willing to pay for the upkeep of a highway then why not for a human being?
Bill Casto is a student at WCU and a member of the College Democrats.