(The following was published in the Newsleader on April 17, 2009)
President Obama has sent his budget to Congress and it contains some 635 billion dollars identified as a down payment on Universal Health Care. There are those in this country who are diametrically opposed to any government interference in health care. Still others are ready for the government to step in and make health care affordable for all Americans. This column will seek to examine some of the arguments for and against Universal Health Care.
A majority of Americans have some form of health insurance, mostly through their employers. Older Americans and some people with disabilities have Medicare. Veterans of the military have available coverage through the Veterans Administration. There is, however, a reported 40 million people who remain uninsured and we are told that number is growing with the increase in unemployment. Even with the number of insured people, many face financial ruin when catastrophic illness strikes. The reason, of course, is the cost of their care.
So with these facts in place, what are we to think of a government sponsored medical coverage for all Americans?
Last week I learned of a baby who needs a heart transplant. I understand the baby has no chance without the transplant. The technology exists to perform the surgery. This is where it gets down right obscene. The operation will cost 1.5 million dollars. Are they crazy? The parents apparently have health insurance, but the insurer will not pay for this surgery. Even if they would, the co-pays would bankrupt the vast majority of people in this country. Most states in America have no death penalty even for the vilest of killers. Does this mean then that there is a death penalty for innocent little babies? What is supposed to be our reaction? How can we morally allow this baby to die when there exists technology to repair the deficiency?
What good is a technology if less than 2% of Americans can afford it? If I were to offer you my product and by its cost virtually 98% of possible buyers would be eliminated from buying, how long do you think I would stay in business?
Throughout our history medical care has been a commodity that is sold on the open market. Doctors and pharmacies have engaged in normal retail business. Hospitals have, for the most part, been for profit businesses. Many doctors probably believe today that they are entitled to six or even seven figure incomes. I think that is coming to an end. I think the medical industry has priced itself out of the market. The introduction of this budget should inform all who would listen that a new day is dawning.
We have all heard the arguments that research is expensive, that doctors have to spend many years in expensive schools and are entitled to large incomes. There seems to be plenty of justification for huge costs associated with medical care.
I think if Universal Health Care comes about, doctors will be civil servants. Costs and fees will be set by the government. Hospital costs will be brought back to reality.
Will that stop research? Will medical technology come to an end? Will doctors go into another line of work? Perhaps to some extent, but like all changes, normalcy will return. Medical care will still be available, it will just be cheaper.
I have the good fortune of being treated by the VA. As a veteran, I have a contract with the government for my health care. If our government can come up with a Universal Health Care program anywhere similar to the VA, we all would be better for it. My care has been second to none.
Here I have not given any concrete answers, just more questions. Changes are coming though. Will it be better than what we have? I hope so. As I asked earlier, what good is the research if so few can afford it?
Ron Scarbro February 28, 2009
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