Head to Head: Government involvement in healthcare is necessary

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Universal healthcare is the difference between the United States and the healthiest countries in the world.

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Charlie Kirk speaking in the Lory Student Center on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (Colin Shepherd | Collegian)

Charlie Kirk, who spoke at Colorado State University on Friday in a talk called ‘Smashing Socialism,’ believes health care is not a right, because he thinks rights only come from God. By this logic, the rights to free speech and to bear arms are also nonexistent.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization have both declared the ability to access healthcare a basic human right. These declarations came out in the 1940s, but the United States is still far behind the times in creating equal access for its citizens.

While those against universal healthcare use ‘socialized medicine’ as a catch-all for all kinds of universal healthcare, this is nothing more than a cheap scare tactic designed to mislead consumers. In reality, there are many ways to implement universal healthcare – but all of them require government involvement, because a free market approach to healthcare is fundamentally flawed.

There is no way for healthcare to operate as a free market, because it lacks the qualities necessary to make it a market of any sort. A free market economy relies on bargaining power. With healthcare, there is no bargaining power because the industry holds all the cards. Healthcare is something that everyone needs, and often when it is needed the person who needs it is not in a position to bargain about costs.

When a person’s appendix ruptures, they need healthcare or they will die. Costs aren’t usually discussed at this point, and are billed after the procedure has been done. When it’s a life-and-death issue, the entity with the life-saving power holds the ability to charge whatever they want. The sick person has no power. They can either pay the provider’s price or they can die.

We buy insurance to overcome this issue, but this then gives negotiating power entirely to the insurance companies, which are for-profit agencies. Without some oversight they will do what is best for their bottom line, not for the individual’s health.

This graph shows how the US is an outlier with health spending and health outcomes.
The United States spends more on healthcare than any other developed country, but with lower outcomes. The difference between the US and the other countries on this chart? Universal healthcare.

Universal healthcare is something we desperately need in this country. The United States was not even in the top 20 in healthiest nations last year, and it is alone among developed nations that do not offer universal healthcare to its citizens.

Some may say that since hospitals can’t turn someone away based on ability to pay, our healthcare system is good enough. That’s not true; our system is nowhere near good enough. People still are forced to choose between dying and paying exorbitant bills. Even basic healthcare can bankrupt families and destroy lives.

The current system was built for the upper class. The upper echelon of society can access top-of-the-line treatment quickly with no waiting period. These are also the people who are stopping it from changing, because if more people access healthcare then the system becomes more populated, which may result in a wait.

This is a terrible reason not to implement healthcare for all citizens. The impatience of the wealthy is not worth the lives of the poor.

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There are many different universal healthcare systems. They are often called single-payer systems because they would be funded by a tax, and all health expenditures would be paid by the government out of that fund. The most extreme example is for the entire healthcare sector to be employed by the government, funded by a tax, creating a system where insurance isn’t necessary. This kind of drastic reform is unlikely to be successful in the United States, because it is so vastly different from the current system and would require a dramatic government overhaul.

But, there are more options than simply entirely government-run or with no government involvement.

Another kind of universal healthcare is a ‘Medicare for All’ system of the type espoused by Bernie Sanders. This system has the government taking over the insurance industry, providing Medicare to everybody in the country. This would have some long-run cost-saving effects too, as it would significantly reduce overhead and would drive drug prices down. This would not happen overnight, and the rollout would take some doing, but eventually everyone would have government-sponsored health insurance.

Many people against this kind of healthcare argue that it would be a significant cost -Sander’s bill is estimated to cost $32 trillion over 10 years. This cost would be offset by sliding taxes, according to Sanders, but that would still only cover half of the cost. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is not a bill Sanders expects to pass. A bill put forward with the actual plan for passing would likely give this cost much more consideration, so using this bill as a metric for the cost of the system is a fallacy.

Rather, to assess eventual cost it makes more sense to look at the percentage of the budget that other nations are spending on healthcare. The U.S. consistently spends more per capita than countries that have universal coverage, to worse results. While the initial cost of overhauling a system may be high, it would lower costs in the long run,

A free market economy relies on bargaining power, and on individuals having the right to choose to forgo the product or go with an alternative. With healthcare, there is no bargaining power because the industry holds all the cards.

Many people balk at the idea of the government taking over any industries, but government can still achieve universal healthcare without that. Switzerland, for example, still operates with private insurance companies but with the government imposing strict limits on pricing and enforcing a mandate for every person to have health insurance. Switzerland also decoupled insurance from employment and largely subsidizes insurance providers, making health insurance cheap and accessible for all residents.

If aspects of that system sounds familiar, it’s because the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, had many similarities, including the individual insurance mandate and subsidies for insurers.

Switzerland is the healthiest country in the world. But in the last year, the ways in which Obamacare was like Switzerland have been intentionally undone. At Trump’s State of the Union address, he bragged about demolishing the individual mandate portion of Obamacare, which required everyone to have insurance. But last year Republicans also removed the subsidies for health insurance providers, causing prices on the individual market to skyrocket.

There are many ways to achieve universal healthcare, but contrary to the beliefs of Kirk, some measure of so-called ‘socialized medicine’ is necessary for everyone to have healthcare. Access to healthcare is a basic human right, not a market, and our current system leaves people with the options of bankrupting themselves or dying.

That is not fair, it’s not right, and anyone who pretends this isn’t an issue of life and death is deluding themselves into willful ignorance.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42