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August 17, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
The United States stands alone as the only industrialized nation in the developed world that does not guarantee its citizens access to health care. That has always been hard for me to understand, because opponents of a single payer universal health care system fail to make a persuasive argument against the proposition. Instead, they create slogans and sound bites and have conjured up dire images of a government run system or “socialized medicine.” They frequently cite VA hospitals as a notoriously bad example of government managed care although despite egregious incidents the overall satisfaction rate among wounded veterans remains high.

Regrettably the term “socialized medicine” has stuck even though it is not true. A single payer universal health care system is not a health care delivery system operated by the government. Doctors will not be employees of the government and will not operate with nurses in government owned hospitals. A single payer universal health care system is a payment plan.

Another frequently repeated myth is that the United States has the best health care system in the world, but by what standard? Despite having the best trained health care providers and the most astonishing equipment in the entire world why do more of our babies die at birth than 37 countries with lower infant death rates. In the world rankings we rank two places behind Cuba. Incidentally Singapore has the lowest infant death rate followed closely by Sweden.

The United States ranks 20th in life expectancy for females and 21st in the world for males. We’ve actually gone backwards; in 1945 the United States had the longest life expectancy for both groups. Outcome based studies show that Canada which is frequently cited by American critics as having a failed system (but not by Canadians) consistently ranks ahead of the United States even in maladies such as coronary artery disease and renal failure.

Next comes the cost issue. Critics have been less successful in convincing Americans that a single payer plan would be too costly, because even the most casual observer would not dispute that we spend 40% more per-capita on health care than any other industrialized nation in the world. And, perhaps the biggest myth of all is that Americans will be deprived of vital services when empirical evidence shows that citizens in other countries have more doctor visits and hospital days than their American cousins.

Americans are recognizing that opponents of a single payer system are losing the argument on the facts. Now the opposition has shifted to more of a philosophical or values based discussion. They are left with the libertarian or free will based doctrine—the government has no right to take money from one citizen to pay for the health of another. A recent argument went likes this:

If Aunt Belle needs a knee replacement to relieve years of excruciating pain she should; (1) save enough cash to pay for the procedure, (2) have a medical savings account or enough money to pay for a private health insurance plan, but (3) don’t foist the cost of her painful knees on Nephew Bob through a single payer universal health care plan. To succumb to that thinking requires acceptance that it is of greater moral value for Aunt Belle to suffer torturous torment for the remainder of her life than for our nation to have a single payer health care plan.

After all, why, Nephew Bob insists should the government take money from him to pay for a treatment that he will never need and treat complete strangers? On the other hand, Nephew Bob never takes into account that Aunt Belle’s is a childless spinster. She pays taxes to educate his children and will continue to help educate other people’s children for as long as she owns property.

Health care is a basic right of every American. Failure to provide national health care by a nation’s government is a crime against humanity. Where in the constitution is it expressly forbidden? From what mountain did a deity carve that pronouncement in stone?


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