In Defense of Free Healthcare

One of President Obama’s campaign promises was major healthcare reform and lately, that promise has been repeatedly referenced in the news (primarily on Fox). While opinions on the subject are vary, in general they have tended towards the negative- a common fear voiced is that a “bureaucrat” will be placed between the patient and the doctor (though others have submitted that they’d rather have a bureaucrat between them and their doctors than an insurance company). Conservative icon Glen Beck, for example, argues that this reform will be costly and inefficient in a brief animated video (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkGhn3LfbyM&feature=related). The video depicts a man who, after being hit on the head by a falling anvil, has to wait six weeks for treatment due to free healthcare. The clip ends with the warning “Offer applies after voting Democrat and not listening to the Glen Beck Program”. Some might call this video a patriotic attempt to maintain an effective and productive system.

I call it propaganda.

What we are actually presented with is an exaggerated and implausible scenario which the creator threatens will happen unless we abstain from the Democrat party and watch his program. Now, purely for the sake of the argument, let’s ignore the insultingly simplistic message and focus on the admonition. Firstly, we are told not to vote Democrat (or risk waiting six weeks for medical attention). People have been voting Democrat for over a century now and no free healthcare system has been implemented. Millions of Americans do not watch the Glen Beck program (some shameless self-advertising), and nationalized healthcare yet to be instated.

“True,” one might argue, “It’s fear-mongering and agitprop, but the core principle is true- free healthcare would be expensive and unproductive.” Now granted, free healthcare would mean that it would take longer to see a doctor however, to say that it would take “six weeks” is simple misrepresentation. Hospitals do have their busy days, but it’s nothing like the crowded mayhem represented by television dramas. In the US, there are hundreds of thousands of public and private hospitals, not to mention an almost countless number of private clinics. Yes, with free healthcare the numbers of people seeking medical attention would skyrocket, but almost assuredly not beyond the country’s capacity to help.

Besides, even if hospitals do become more crowded, how is that a bad thing? More patients don’t mean more disease but more coverage. Those who were unable to afford medical attention before are now able to seek treatment- universal coverage means universal treatment which means a healthier, more productive society (for anyone who isn’t satisfied with the fact that more people are being given medical care).  As for the wait- I’d rather wait six weeks for free medical care than be turned away instantly because I’m not wealthy enough.

And that of course leads us to an important question: why should only the wealthy be healthy? We live in an age of medical miracles that before the 20th century would’ve been inconceivable. We’ve developed vaccines, medicines, and antibiotics to fight off or even cure us of diseases and infections that would otherwise kill us. We’ve created artificial limbs to replace severed ones, and with artificial respirators and pacemakers we can keep humans alive well into their nineties.

If you’re wealthy, that is.

The poor are lucky to benefit from these miracles. If a wealthy man loses an arm, he can purchase an artificial one. If a poor man loses an arm, then there’s nothing that can be done about. If a wealthy woman has complications with her pregnancy, she can hire a midwife, a private physician and so on. If a poor woman has complications with her pregnancy then there’s nothing that can be done about it.

And why is this? When did the wealthy become entitled to longer, healthier lives? Why should the number of green cotton-papers a person has determine when and whether he gets to live or die?

Maybe some of the rich worked hard for their wealth. Maybe some inherited it. Maybe of the poor are poor because they’re lazy. Maybe some were born poor, and for all their hard work remain poor. Sure, the advocates of Capitalism will tell you that the poor can work hard, seize opportunities, move up in life. So if a man works hard his whole life, but his alarm clock’s battery dies and he’s late to work and his co-worker (who works just as hard, but was lucky enough to have a better clock) gets that promotion (and the money for better healthcare) instead of the man who was late, does that mean the late man is somehow less deserving of decent medical attention? Are those who simply missed opportunities (or never had opportunities presented) somehow less-than-human? The Declaration of Independence states that among humanity’s inalienable rights is “the right to life“! How then can we demand that the poor, the wealthy- anyone– pay for life? I defy even the most brutal Capitalist or Social Darwinist to look a person in the eye and tell him that he’s not wealthy enough to deserve good healthcare.

So why would anyone oppose free healthcare? Who in their right mind would trade a little wait for free and universal healthcare?

The answer can be found in another Glen Beck clip (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mq9zfTEtfI)

The clip, while short, is telling. The show’s guest, Dr. Steve Neeleman- after criticizing America’s “addiction to HMOs”- goes on to describe the virtues of his own company, HealthEquity. What the show doesn’t mention is that HealthEquity is simply another insurance company- and it’s insurance companies that stand to lose the most through universal healthcare. In the interests of full disclosure, it should be mentioned, the subject of the show was Hilary Clinton’s proposed healthcare plan- not free healthcare, but nevertheless the clip serves an excellent example of why insurance companies so staunchly oppose free healthcare. Why would the public pay for something they can get for free? What Glen Beck has done here would be the equivalent of interviewing a horse-and-buggy company owner on the evils of Henry Ford’s Model-T automobile.

In conclusion, yes, free and universal healthcare does have disadvantages. Some taxes would have to be raised and in some places, waiting lines would increase. Nonetheless, the benefits of free healthcare greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Yes, insurance companies would be virtually wiped out, but how does that measure in comparison with the countless lives that could be saved?

It just doesn’t.

3 Responses to “In Defense of Free Healthcare”

  1. June 26, 2009 at 3:53 am

    Boy your posts are fun.

    When my wife got pregnant, we didn’t have insurance. We had no savings, I had no job, and we already had tens of thousands of dollars in debt. How had we gotten into this situation? It wasn’t due to any laziness on my part, or even bad luck. Rather, I was at the tail end of twelve years of college, and had massive amounts of education to pay for. I had worked on and off throughout the college years, and as a result, my work history was very messy. That and a down economy made it unlikely that I would have a substantial income any time soon.

    Being a student has always been tough, no matter what the economic system. Students consume a huge amount of resources, and have limited ability– at the time– to pay it back. The gamble is that a successful student will be able to repay all the expense of education in the future, and do so many times over. I say gamble, because some students do not go on to distinguish themselves, due to early disaster or an unabitious personality or a number of other detours. In my case I maxed out what society was willing to gamble on me. There simply were no more resources to go around, and so I was poor.

    I sat down with the obstetrician and had a conversation with him that would never exist under a system of universal healthcare. I explained my situation to him, asked him what his needs were, and asked what sort of medical options were needed for my wife. Between the two of us, we worked out an arrangement that minimized the burden on me, and that was also okay for him. I found day labor sweeping factory floors, and from work such as this I payed for the birth of my daughter.

    No government or insurance company decided what care my wife would receive; she and her doctor and I did. The nurses, once they realized I was paying for things directly, started doing a much sharper job of explaining what was going on, what options were in front of us, and what things costed. We declined the amniocentesis, the bottles of aspirin, and the extra fluffy towels. We opted for the epidural block when the pain was becoming more than she could handle, and I insisted on the second night in the hospital, expense be hanged.

    Sweeping factory floors I managed to pay for all of this, on time. Later, when I’d found some better employment, I had the option to buy health insurance through my company. As I looked over the numbers, I discovered that the entire pregnancy would have cost me more money with this insurance than it had without. I decided that being self-pay was by no means a bad thing. In fact, given the more attentive service I received, I generally prefer it. The only logical reason for health insurnace is for coverage in the event of a statistically unlikely catastrophic medical emergency. Coverage for routine care– including ordinary pregnancies– is wasteful. These days that type of catastrophic coverage is out of style, and I haven’t been able to find an insurance company that offers it.

    Under communism, who decides how much education I may receive? And who decides whether or not it will be economically possible for my wife to have a baby? I managed to draw twelve years of schooling and the birth of a child basically from nothing. My history previous to that would not have suggested I was capable of it. What this question misses: “When did the wealthy become entitled to longer, healthier lives? Why should the number of green cotton-papers a person has determine when and whether he gets to live or die?” is that an individual knows best what he himself is capable of, and what his needs are. To skip the amniocentesis and opt for the second night were my decisions, made by me because I was the one allocating the limited resources. No one else would have thought that second night was affordable, and had it been government paying for the health care, we would have been sent home early. (If they hadn’t just insisted on an abortion right off the bat– my consumption of resources was already way beyond my “needs.”)

    But had it been government making the decisions, I doubt I would have been in college for twelve years. I am certain I would not have been permitted an engineering degree; my math scores in high school were terrible, and there was no reason to think that the gamble of putting me in an engineering program would have ever paid off. But it was my gamble, and it did pay off. I got to be good enough at math that I went on to make a discovery in a totally unrelated field: http://alamanach.com/second-order-differential-equations-and-dark-adaptation-in-vertebrate-photoreceptors/ . Under a communist system, I question whether that paper or my daughter would ever exist.

  2. 2 trotskyite
    June 26, 2009 at 6:10 am

    And what about those who can’t find second jobs, or at least, second jobs that don’t pay well enough (if you don’t mind, I’m intending to address the issue of education in a later post)?

  3. June 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    The unfortunate truth of the matter is that there are finite resources to go around. And I want to make clear that in my case, I didn’t even have a first job. Sweeping factory floors as a day laborer didn’t just pay for the pregnancy, it also put a roof over our head and food on the table. Society had little work to offer at the time, and scant wages to pay. Resources simply weren’t around. There hadn’t been enough capital available (or so it would have seemed) to pay for twelve years of college and a pregnancy.

    That being the case, what about those who can’t find second jobs? They suffer. When you run out of resources, you suffer, no matter what economic status or politics you hold. And the available resources are finite. Manage them wrong, and there will be problems. I took part in an expedition deep into the Registan desert, south of Kandahar. This is a land as remote and barren as any on Earth. Had we run out of water or fuel, we would have been in deep, deep trouble; there is no help to be had out there. This is how the world is.

    I look forward to your post on education.

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