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Universal Health Care

CaduceusUniversal health care has been a hot topic for debate for a while now, but has just recently begun making big headlines with the new proposed health care plan by the Obama administration. I've never really had a huge respect for the knowledge of our country's population (e.g. 1 in 4 Americans think the Sun goes around the Earth), but some of the statements I see coming from the right wing on this are just mind numbingly ignorant - or extremly dishonest.

I've briefly mentioned universal healthcare in a previous entry. Here's what I had to say back then:

If May was referring to something other than the stimulus packages, the policy I've personally heard referred to as socialism the most often is universal health care. I don't understand why everyone is so against it. Compared to industrialized nations with universal health care, the U.S. spends about twice the amount on health care (from either a per capita or GDP basis), but our quality of care isn't any better and we have less access to physicians (http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2009/05/are_patients_in_universal_heal.php)

Now, if you follow the link from the above quote, you'll find data comparing the health care systems of various prosperous democracies (mostly Australia, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, The UK, and The USA, with a bit of data for other countries). Note that the U.S. is the only one of those countries without universal health care. What the data show is that, in addition to what was already stated above about the U.S. spending far more per capita (around double) than the other countries in the comparison, that in most measures of quality of health care, the U.S. does worse than almost all the other countries, with the exceptions being Canada and the UK for certain issues.

Now, I was getting pretty used to conservatives simply pointing to Canada and the UK as examples of why universal healthcare was a bad idea. And I'd point out that there are other types of universal health care plans out there, and that we don't need to emulate the worst examples. But it seems that recently, even just pointing to the two worst plans wasn't enough, and now I'm starting to hear just out and out falsehoods about healthcare in the UK and Canada, and falsehoods about the president's new plan.

There's a decent article in the Guardian about some of the claims coming out about the UK's health care system. As I said already, given how poor the UK system is compared to other universal health care systems, you'd think conservatives would just stick to cherry picking data, and wonder why they would resort to lying about the UK's system.

Probably the most famous example of misrepresenting Obama's plan is the whole 'death panel' fiasco. Palin made headlines on that, and now other conservative leaders, such as Gingrich, have even backed up her statements. And it's not as if I chose two radical fringe elements to be easy targets - one was the vice presidential candidate, and the other was the Speaker of the House. (At least other Republicans, like Senator Murkowski and Senator Isakson have tried to set the record straight.) You've got to wonder about what these people are thinking. Are they really that ignorant? Are they lying because they'll do anything to keep from having socialized medicine in any form? Is it simply to appease their base? Whatever the reason, it boggles the mind that they can state such blatant untruths, and still have a sizeable portion of Americans support them.


When it comes to universal health care, I do support it, but in a rather guarded way. Looking at that link I provided earlier about health care in other countries, it's clear that universal health care can be either a boon or a bane, depending on how it's implemented. It's neither a guaranteed utopia, nor a guaranteed descent into becoming a new USSR. Considering our government's track record with big programs (they've done good with things like NASA and the FDA, but not so good with things like the TSA), this is something that needs to be watched closely.


Universal health care also makes sense considering the system that we already have in place. I've already written my thoughts on this in a comment on The New Minority blog, which I'll paraphrase here.

One issue is that we already do have a de facto national health care system. Publicly funded hospitals cannot turn away anyone for a life threatening emergency. And honestly, I like that. I don't want to show up at a hospital bleeding out, and have to wait on some clerk to clear my insurance before the surgeons fix me up. And I don't want paramedics to be the ones making decisions on whether or not I get treated when the ambulance shows up.

Accepting that means that insured and non-insured alike get treated, and some of the treatments are too expensive to ever be paid off by the people that received them (even if you garnished 100% of their wages for the rest of their lives, as I've heard some people suggest). So, the bills for those treatments get footed by the rest of us, through raised insurance premiums and higher taxes.

Now, consider that some of those emergencies, like heart attacks or strokes, could be avoided through preventative treatment, which in many cases are cheaper to implement than the emergency care. So, if you accept that hospitals are going to provide emergency treatment to everybody, the question becomes, is it cheaper to provide everybody with ongoing healthcare to avoid those emergencies, or to just stick to the status quo? I think a strong case can be made for the former.


Looking rationally at the data that's already out there, we know that our health care system here in the U.S. isn't the best one out there. What I would really like to see on this issue is for both sides to work together, rather than have one side continually muddying the water with falsehoods, and the other side being distracted with simply setting the record straight. Just imagine what could happen if that same amount of effort was put into coming up with the best possible health care plan.

Numerous typos were corrected after this entry was originally posted. Additionaly, the sentence, "And it's not as if I chose two radical fringe elements to be easy targets - one was the vice presidential candidate, and the other was the Speaker of the House," was not in the original entry.

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