[Viewpoint] It’d be absurd if it weren’t so tragicThe issue of health care is a matter of importance to society at any time, but currently it has become the national focus of the United States. So in this column I want to explore the current levels of emotion and progress there, by beginning with a basic standard - the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In that document, Article 25 guarantees adequate health care and access to social services for all people, everywhere.
Health care has long been a serious issue in the U.S., but it has essentially been a social issue and not a political one. Whenever the outcry has reached the chambers of legislation, few have given it a hearing, yet for decades the populace has been subsidizing the profits of massive corporations with their tax dollars, and the people have not been receiving their benefits. Tens of millions are without insurance, and tens of millions more have insurance that is incomplete.
Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard University showed in 2002 that 59.8 percent of the system was already government subsidized, and approximately a third of the expenses were spent on administration. The cost per person is currently in the stratosphere.
Ha-Joon Chang of the University of Cambridge writes that more than 50 percent of pharmaceuticals are produced in the state sector, for example by universities and non-profits. Many technological developments are subsequently turned over to the private sector, where massive profits are made - the risks and research having already been shouldered by the taxpayer. Citizens then pay exorbitant amounts for their medicine compared to other countries. Meanwhile, the drug companies send 450 lobbyists to Capitol Hill, almost one for each senator and representative, while single-payer (non-profit) health care has perhaps one lobbyist. The system is not likely to change soon.
The devastation this leads to can be fully grasped when one realizes than 44,000 people die per year, 121 per day, five per hour, and many more suffer because of lack of access. The NAACP says that 880,000 African Americans would be alive today had there been a public option. We would be hard-pressed to find many other injustices as widespread and as consistent as health care in the U.S.
The current debate has all of the ingredients for a legitimate national drama. Health care is a complex issue: it is an essential survival need, it is political, has racial relevance, has its ideological fixations and its economic bottom lines. Nevertheless, the challenge can be met and resolved, in fact, quite easily. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and past presidential candidate, has stated that a single-payer system could be in place within a year if funding of $1 billion dollars was put to the task.
Unfortunately, communication and dialogue have been contorted and drowned out by politicization and ideology. Angry rants, massive exaggerations and outright lies have become common. Evidence or veracity is sacrificed by whoever “knows” they are right, but then do not have the evidence to back up their arguments. Some of them are given access to the mass media and the public mind. The flames are fanned to the point where emotions run high and the populace has a difficult time understanding reasoning and intelligence. To throw anything into the milieu which is not verifiable evidence would run the risk of responsibility for a social breakdown.
Though the public should not listen to rants and fear mongering, the media outlets take the larger responsibility for what is framed, and for who says what and on what grounds. Information is complex and overwhelming, thus people are dependent on the research done via the media and intellectuals. What I describe is not censorship, but integrity and veracity. At this moment, the nation needs the integrity of truth and due diligence, and that truth is made real through society finding a civil way to provide an essential service to all citizens. A single health care system, whether run by an NGO or a private system with regional, state and community-sized capacity or integration, funded by the people, seems to be the most viable option.
In contrast, the plan that has emerged is one that will force everyone to purchase health insurance and will open up a great new market for the insurance companies - the same private tyrannies that have decimated the system and made it what it is. Is this scheme not an affront to human dignity? Further, the negligence and complicity of the past should not be overlooked, as many on both sides of the aisle are already wanting to move on and put the past behind them.
The will to do something on this issue is long overdue. Whether the country can move forward must be determined by the citizens plotting a course, making reasonable adjustments according to evidence and finally achieving the goal of what is ethical and civilized.
Meanwhile, while we wait, there is a sharp outfit of dedicated people travelling the country, providing quality, free medical care. However, the Remote Area Medical Project should be freed to do its real job, which is to make expeditions into areas of extreme poverty or where war has ravaged villages. If the U.S. does not move on the health care issue now, we will need more “Remote” Medical Care, and Article 25 will be but a dream for many U.S citizens.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an independent researcher on science, economics and issues related to the poor.
by Layne Hartsell