At some point in American history, the words “communism” and “socialism” became words spoken almost exclusively in hushed, borderline hysterical tones. Granted, being locked in a decades-long power struggle with a Communist country with nothing less at stake than the fate of the civilized world tends to leave some with a sour impression of certain political ideologies. But it’d be hard to deny that some worthwhile ideas have inadvertently been painted red with the broad strokes of that anti-Commie brush. A universal healthcare system is one such idea.
Somehow, in certain political circles, the idea of universal healthcare is synonymous with socialism or communism, and at times, comically, as both. At the base of this disdain – besides a troubling ignorance of political theory – is a fundamental American aversion to people getting something for nothing. And if you peel back this layer of discontent, you encounter another disturbing realization: in this country, the U.S. healthcare system is not synonymous with health; it’s synonymous with profit.
You would think that the one thing a society should be willing to guarantee every one of its members is equal access to healthcare. But the argument rarely gets framed this way. Instead, it’s framed as a story of those who work hard and earn the right to have healthcare and those who lounge about and want their healthcare paid for by other people.
This false dichotomy can be seen as a symptom of a disease once described by John Steinbeck – uh oh, we’re getting into socialist territory – who said that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily disgraced millionaires.” Essentially, if you’re poor in America, it’s only because you aren’t rich yet. Not only are the rich encouraged not to care about the poor, but even the poor don’t want to care about the poor because they figure they’ll have money soon enough. If you don’t have money in the land of opportunity, it’s your own fault and you deserve everything you get as a result.
And by branding universal healthcare as a system that gives money to the poor, instead of a system that gives everyone basic human dignity, it’s come to be seen as something deeply un-American and – sin of all sins – socialist.
As I said, the core concern of the American healthcare system has become money rather than health. When you have hospital administrators who have to worry about shareholders’ concerns, the actual issue of health gets pushed to the back burner. Financial decisions should always take a back seat to human lives, but the way it’s set up in America, it’s only a happy coincidence if your health happens to match up with a profit-making mechanism.
Another baseless paranoia that creeps up every time someone mentions moving toward a more universal system is the idea that there just isn’t enough healthcare to go around, which will inevitably lead to a team of bureaucrats deciding which elderly people are worth keeping alive and who should just hurry up and have their plugs pulled already. Yeah, I’m talking about death panels.”
As far as Obamacare was concerned, these were shown to be a patently false proposition. But that doesn’t stop people from bringing them up when discussing future alternatives to the current American healthcare system. The truth is, this rationing and “weeding out of the week” was already going on under our current system, long before Obamacare was a twinkle in our President’s eye. The difference is that the people being weeded out were simply those Americans who were too poor to buy health insurance.
But here’s the crazy thing: even though one of the more common criticisms of universal healthcare is how crazy expensive it would be, the United States already spends far more per capita than most other industrialized nations on healthcare, but far fewer of our citizens are properly insured. 37% of Americans didn’t get recommended care, didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick and didn’t fill prescriptions because they cost too much. Compare that with only 6% of Swedes not getting recommended care. And because comparisons with tiny Nordic nations can get tiring, consider this: that number is only 4% in Britain. So not only is everyone not covered, but we’re also spending way more money on this shoddy coverage. Can we agree there’s a problem here?
Depending on who you talk to, Obamacare either set out to address this problem only to be hamstrung by the opposition, or was fatally flawed from the start and had to be stopped by all means necessary. But it would seem like even its supporters would agree that it isn’t a total solution to the problem. Lost in the Obamacare debate is the fact that no one was particularly pleased with how healthcare was before it was passed. So even if – for whatever reason – you still hate this suite of laws, you must agree that returning to the status quo is out of the question.
Image Credit: TaxRebate.org (via Creative Commons)
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