The Case for Universal Healthcare

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University of Oregon Professor Mohamed S. Jemmali submitted this essay to us a few weeks ago. Aside from the fact that we've just been busy 'round here, that Senator Ted Kennedy passed recently makes our lateness seem fateful (you know, if you believe in such things). Nevertheless, if you have a sec, please drop him a comment and let him know your thoughts. Enjoy.

The Case for Universal Healthcare
by Mohamed S. Jemmali (Arabic Faculty Professor, World Languages Academy at the University of Oregon)

It’s a no-brainer for the rest of the world, but in America, politics can make issues very complicated and drag them forever. No changes have been made to our healthcare system for over 40 years, despite few attempts by Democrats, the last of which was by the Clinton administration, shut down by Republicans and health insurance companies. This issue can get so complicated, it’s important to remember the fundamentals.

There are 5 indisputable facts that no political party disagrees with: (1) Healthcare is the second biggest contributor to our budget deficit (after wars), wasting $1.2 trillion a year. (2) The US spends more than twice as much on healthcare (per person) than any other nation, and the cost keeps increasing every year. (3) Today, 45-70 million Americans have no health insurance. Last year, 18,000 Americans died because they’re not insured, 1 million American families went bankrupt from medical bills, and 12.6 million Americans were discriminated by health insurance companies. These numbers keep going up every year. (4) According to the UN World Health Organization, the US healthcare system (including health of population) ranks 37th in the world. (5) Among the G-20 (20 richest and most developed countries in the world), the US and China are the only nations that don’t have a single-payer universal healthcare system (and the biggest polluters). Even Switzerland, “the European capital of capitalism”, whose old system was the closest to the current US system, voted to test the universal system for a decade, then permanently adopted it. With these facts alone, a 10 year old would be able to tell us how to fix our healthcare system.

For the US President, things are never as black and white for 3 reasons: (1) With a 2-party system, one party will always try to crush the other to gain/maintain power. (2) Americans are not as educated as the G-20 (also a fact by the UN Education Dept) and are “too loyal” to their political party. (3) Health insurance companies are among the top 4 lobbyists (along with banks, defense contractors, and pharmaceutical companies, who are also part of the healthcare system). Let me expand on the last reason.

The only way health insurance companies can make profits is by denying coverage! It’s called capitalism. If you have a pre-existing condition, they won’t cover you, because you’re too risky, as your medical bills will most likely exceed the cost of your health plan. If you want insurance, they will offer you dozens of options. Most Americans can only afford the minimum coverage, which is sometimes provided by their employers. So if you can’t afford maximum coverage and one day require a complicated (and therefore expensive) surgery or even cancer treatment, it’s most likely not covered by your health plan, so you can be very sick in bed and battling health insurance lawyers until you die (like Obama’s mother). Even when you break a bone, your health plan may cover the surgery, but won’t cover the ambulance ride, the time you spent in the hospital bed, and/or the pain medication. As a result, you may spend years paying off medical bills that often result in family bankruptcy and the end of the American dream. There are many other problems… This is the reality of our current (and shameful) healthcare system.

Like Clinton, Obama knows that trying to replace private health insurance companies with a public universal healthcare system during his first term will almost guarantee failure to get reelected. Taking advantage of the current economic recession (more urgency to fix the bankrupting healthcare system), Obama is instead proposing an optional public plan to compete alongside private insurance companies, in order to improve competition (reducing costs, improving quality of care, and keeping insurance companies honest). Today, insurance companies are spending $1.4 million a day to stop his healthcare reform bill! This money comes from the profits they’re making from denying coverage to sick Americans. This money is spent on 3 things: (1) advertising that uses fear tactics to mislead the public, (2) paying congressmen on both parties (which explains the disagreement among Democrats) to vote against Obama’s bill, and (3) campaign contributions.

Obama strengthened a long friendship between Republicans and health insurance lobbyists. A Republican senator recently said: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this (healthcare reform bill), it will be his waterloo. It will break him.” That’s contradictive of the Republicans’ public statements, who for once agree with Democrats that the current healthcare system is not financially sustainable and has to change. While they always disagree with the Democrats’ ideas, they never offered alternative solutions.

While the fight in Congress is about power (not the people), the debate among Americans comes down to one question: Is healthcare a human right (for everybody) or a privilege (for those who can afford it)? Despite what critics may say, socialism makes sense in certain functions of society, like K-12 education. Can you imagine cops and fire-fighters run by private companies? Imagine your house is on fire. You call 911, but they say they can’t help you because you don’t have insurance, or tell you to wait 10 minutes until they verify your insurance information. Most Americans don’t recognize healthcare as a human right because it’s the most individualistic society in the world. Remember, if healthcare was provided by the government instead of employers, businesses would save a fortune, and people who lose their jobs (especially during recessions) won’t lose their healthcare coverage too.

In the last 4 decades, every President tried to reform healthcare, and each one of them failed, except G. W. Bush, who preferred to ignore it. The last attempt was by Clinton. It was shut down by Congress and health insurance companies because he didn’t consult with Congress when designing his bill. Learning from Clinton’s mistakes, Obama decided to do the opposite. He told Congress to come up with their own bipartisan bill, as long as it fulfills 3 conditions:

* Reduce costs: rising healthcare costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals, and families, and they must be brought under control.
* Guarantee choice: every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option.
* Ensure affordable care for all: all Americans must have quality and affordable health care.

As a result, at least 11 different bills emerged from the House and Senate. Few of them are bipartisan and many of them are without the public option. This created fights within Congress and confusion among Americans, and Obama’s deadline to pass a bill got postponed from August to December.

Lately, in town hall meetings across America, disrespect, anger, intimidation, fighting, and chaos have replaced respectful dialogue, conversation, and debate. Some call it democracy and freedom of speech; others call it sabotage and mob rules. The truth is: all of the above. At these meetings, you’ll find all sorts of people who oppose Obama’s healthcare reform: those who are against expansion of government and deficit, those who are confused about the facts, those who hate Obama no matter what, and those who are representing Republicans, insurance companies, and other corporations.

People who hate Obama like to use misleading scare tactics to promote fear and hate. Sometimes they call him communist, Nazi, or racist, even though his mother is white and he was raised by his white grandma! Sometimes they claim he’s Muslim or born in Kenya, like 10 (official) Republican “Birthers” in Congress! Some try to link healthcare to abortion, when they have nothing to do with each other.

Other Americans are confused for 2 other reasons. (1) Since there are a dozen proposals, there are no concrete answers to their questions. Depending on the version of reform, each bill has a different assessment for its cost, how to pay for it, and how it affects the deficit of the current healthcare system. (2) Ignorance is common among Americans. Some of them shout “I don’t want a public/government healthcare program, and don’t touch my Medicare”! Medicare is actually a public healthcare program run by the government, introduced by Democrats 44 years ago. Similarly, the “TEA parties” (Taxed Enough Already) were about protesting tax increase, when in reality, 95% of Americans got a tax cut last Spring, as Obama promised them!

When Democrats are leading the White House and both Houses in Congress, and the President is popular, what should Republicans do to regain control? Logically, either introduce new and better ideas or hope the President fails. Only one solution is patriotic. So far, Republicans chose the path that’s leading to failure of their country, their party, or both, by throwing the kitchen sink at the President, opposing everything he attempts to improve the country (including the current recession started by Republicans) and spreading lies that promote hatred and divide the country.

Americans need to stop freaking out about socialized healthcare. Switzerland, France, Spain, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Italy, Germany, and England all have single-payer universal healthcare, and so are the other G-20 nations. Neither of them is a communist regime or has a healthcare system that contributes towards a budget deficit. It’s time to join the rest of the civilized world.