WHEN DID YOUR FELLOW MAN BECOME THE ENEMY?
By Paul Borst
When Barack Obama became president, one thing was brought to the forefront of the United States’ consciousness. Universal healthcare was something that had never been talked about by those around me, besides mentioning it in the same breath as that neighbor to the north. But with the implementation of the highly controversial Affordable Healthcare Act, few things have been as polarizing as the idea of providing healthcare as a right, as opposed to a privilege. Of course, any discussion on universal healthcare will include divisive political stances, but I’m going to try to take the politics out of the equation.
As it stands today, some believe that healthcare should be a right guaranteed for all US citizens, as advocated by 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Others contend that a free market economy needs competition to manage costs and to spur innovation. But with the costs of healthcare and insurance spiraling higher, as well as the United States' poor standing among industrialized nations with regards to quality of care, many feel strongly that an overhaul of the current system should happen. A Commonwealth Fund study of healthcare quality versus cost saw the US ranked behind France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. We have the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but it ranks lowest in efficiency, equity, and outcomes. In other words, we don’t get the job done. Poorer people don’t get equal care or access to services, and the outcomes don’t match up with costs. Many liberals feel this is reason for the government to step in. The insurance companies and healthcare providers are driving up the cost of healthcare with no discernible increase in quality. Many feel that's because the goals of for-profit healthcare are incompatible with keeping people healthy.
Take a look at your next statement of benefits, and take note of what’s being charged to your insurance company. Doctors can and do charge exorbitant sums to insurance companies knowing full well that they will get paid by the insurer. This profoundly impacts you, the patient. The average cost of a family plan, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, was $16,800 in 2015, paid by employee premiums as well as employer contributions. This is before reported requests for increases up to 54% requested by insurance companies, who found that people insured by the Affordable Care Act were sicker than expected. On average, 32% of your income is being spent on the chance you might get sick or injured. Using the socialist viewpoint with an equal distribution of wealth, you could argue that replacing our current system with a government subsidized program, a la the National Health System in the U.K., would reduce the costs to the average American by creating an escalating tax system based on taxable income. In other words, the more you make, the more you pay. Using a conservative lens, where this benefits the market is in costs to an employer. We can reduce the cost of healthcare-related spending to an employer by using that same escalating tax system. Universal healthcare could also decrease days missed from work due to health-related issues, as people start practicing proactive healthcare as opposed to defensive healthcare (when you put off going to the doctor because of the high cost). Furthermore, taking care of your fellow man is a tenet of common decency and many religious beliefs. Buddha, Jesus, Confucius or any other religious figure never add a monetary caveat onto the golden rule.
Many services today are socialized. Do you pay a fire department deductible? How about that pesky police premium? Did you remember to leave your payment in the mail for the postal service? You don’t pay directly for these because these are all in some way subsidized by the government. You are already paying more for other people. Would you expect the fire department to let someone else’s house burn because you pay more in taxes than the other guy? Why can’t we have this same thinking when it comes to healthcare? I understand other factors are in play. I would find it difficult to know that my tax dollars are paying for a lifetime smoker’s cancer treatment. But at the same time, I would rest easy knowing that my neighbors are covered against catastrophic ailments that befell them unexpectedly.
Dipping our foot into the ethical waters of healthcare reform can be a tricky business. Health insurance corporations are making profits off of our premiums. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the CEO of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Joseph Swedish (an ironic name, really), made $8.1 million dollars in 2014. Stephen Hemsley, the CEO of United Healthcare (the contractor for Tricare West, the healthcare coverage provider for military members in the western US) made $66.1 million in 2014. To put this another way, we have people whose annual compensation is dependent on whether they decide to pay someone’s healthcare costs. This isn’t an oversimplification of anything either. Health insurance claims agents get bonuses based on how much they pay out to members.
Universal Healthcare can and does work in the United States. Multiple cases already exist where people are receiving it. For instance, your tax dollars are covering federal prisoners’ healthcare. All service members and veterans receive healthcare free of charge, including myself. Before I joined the Air Force in 2009, I had an issue with ingrown toenails. I often put off care because of the cost. Despite paying $80 per week for health insurance ($4,160 annually for single coverage), I had to pay $100 out of pocket to get the toe nail removed. It doesn’t sound like much now, but at the time I was the sole source of income for a family of 3, and $100 went a long way. As a result I would live with an ingrown toenail for months at a time until I could afford to have it taken care of. That’s fairly routine healthcare. What about ER visits? That’s where costs pile up. I personally haven’t incurred any personal ER visits before I enlisted. I know I went to one after I joined though. I received 3 staples in my head as a result of a basketball injury. The cost to the insurer was over $1000. I paid $0. Zilch, zero, nadda. Why do I deserve this over someone who isn’t in the military? I understand the argument of risking my life for my country, but I have all kinds of other benefits because of that. I’m willing to sacrifice free healthcare being an exclusive benefit to me. I still have a nearly guaranteed job, I still have education benefits, and I still have other benefits that the average American won’t get without serving.
What happened to us, America? This country was founded on those unalienable rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When did it become life (so long as you’re willing to pay), liberty (provided you can afford to be choosy), and the pursuit of happiness (as long as you’re ok being sick)? We should look after our fellow man. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear of an effort to raise money for a sick child, or an unfortunate family that’s dealing with a catastrophic illness. I’m overjoyed to hear of when they meet their needs through donations. What if we didn’t have to donate? With universal healthcare, that child, or that family would be covered. I know the system wouldn’t be perfect. The NHS has issues. Canada’s healthcare service has issues. But last time I checked, they just beat us in the rankings.
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Despite his full time gig as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force, Paul Borst still finds time to pretend to be a rock star. Having served previously as a singer-songwriter/guitar poseur in the Shacks, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and as songwriter/bass legend in The Standards of Saranac Lake/Tupper Lake, New York, Paul now bides his time as a solo performer in the acoustic mold. He currently resides in Albuquerque, still working as a full time nylon compression specialist (parachute rigger). He can be reached via Twitter (@riggerlovin), Instagram (paulborst7) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).