Basic Pros and Cons of Universal Health Care

The popular media is currently hotly debating the pros and cons of universal healthcare as President Obama ramps up his efforts to get his plan through Congress. Most Americans, however, know less about the issue than they should, even though more than 48 million of them have no health insurance and will thus be most directly affected by the implementation of a national system.

The major argument for a universal system can be found in the spiraling cost of health care in the United States, where insurance premiums continue to rise as do the costs of prescription medication and medical procedures — to the tune of about $2.5 trillion annually. In the current recession, providing health care benefits to employees is a burden many small businesses cannot bear. By the same token, workers who have lost their jobs are hardly in a position to pick up expensive private policies on their own.

Advocates for universal health care argue that such a system is inherently more efficient as it would encourage more preventive care, streamline record keeping for individual patients, and cut out on the repetitive mountains of paperwork that underpin even the most simple insurance claim. Proponents, however, are quick to counter with the real fact that there is no such thing as “free” health care. The services the government proposes providing will be paid for by taxes and no doubt by budget cuts in other areas, perhaps some as crucial as defense and education, thus shifting an unfair burden of cost onto healthy Americans who will be paying for their unhealthy counterparts while losing services in other sectors.

Given the government’s often muddled record of inefficiency, proponents also argue that the transition period from a private to a public system will be one filled with chaos and will, in the end, create an even larger bureaucracy than that already in place. Some estimates place the cost of implementing and supporting a universal health care system at as much as $1.5 trillion over the next decade, a figure far larger than the $634 billion set aside by the Obama administration to jump-start the system.

At the most basic levels, then, the “pro” argument is that the only way to reign in health care costs is to implement universal health care that encourages preventative medicine and levels the playing field of expense while improving record keeping and information sharing. The “con” argument is that such a system will raise taxes, force crucial budget cuts, limit consumer choice, and potentially encourage medical abuses as patients are more likely to access services they do not need because they are “free” for the taking. As is often the case, both sides have valid points, and in either scenario, the American consumer will continue to pay — either through higher taxes or through insurance premiums he may or may not be able to afford.

Given the enormous influence of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the significant profit loss a universal health care system would pose for them, the Obama administration faces a long, hard fight in Congress to get its package enacted into legislation and, provided they are successful, an even longer transitional period that will, most likely be fraught with mistakes and red tape. No matter how you shake out the scenarios, it seems that at least in the short term, it will be the American people who bear the greatest burden in either scenario.

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  1. Comment by Kevin McCarthy August 25, 2009

    When you write “proponent” i think you mean “opponent”…an “advocate” is the same as a “proponent”: someone in favor of or arguing for something. An opponent argues against something in which the ” ‘con’ ” side of the argument is made. In this case, “[t]he “con” argument is that a [universal] system will raise taxes, force crucial budget cuts, limit consumer choice, and potentially encourage medical abuses.” These cons echo what you say of your “proponents” earlier in your post and thus fail to make rhetorical sense. There are proponents–advocates–and opponents–naysayers.

    With 48 million Americans without health insurance, I favor the president’s plan. Big Pharma and the insurance companies can afford to lose money; the average american can’t, since she can’t even afford health care as it is.

  2. Comment by Travis Vadon October 14, 2009

    I’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic… not as much as I could but still FAR more than the average American has. My take is this (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong); in regards to cost our current system is set up so the doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies all make a profit. With a national system the profit and wealth distribution will change, one of the profit making middle men will be eliminated and be replaced with a non profit entity (the US government). This is just common sense in my mind… if I buy a product from a manufacturer (which I do) I then sell it to the retailer and then they sell it to the consumer this creates two middle men (the wholesaler and the retailer). If I were to change my business structure to a non profit and pass on the savings to the retailer they could then charge less and still make the same amount of profit. Simple economics right? I know this is over simplifying the situation, it might take 30 pages to cover all the details but in essence am I right or wrong?

    Another point I want to make about costs is premiums, deductibles, co-insurances, etc. vs. higher taxes. Now, I can only speak for myself here (25 year old male in good health) but I calculated my yearly out of pocket expenses with two routine office visits per year and no health problems to be approx. $1,478. I have a plan that states if I do get hurt or have to go to the emergency room I will have to pay $3,000 out of pocket before the insurance companies will pay! So if I had one emergency visit in three years and paid my premiums every month and had two routine office visits a year my out of pocket cost would be $7,434 for a three year period! Might I add this is not counting ANY prescription drug costs! At the same time I’d bet most Americans would love to pay so little… and this is my point. Do the anti national health care people who’s only argument is higher taxes really believe we will be spending more on taxes per person than we already shovel out in annual expenses for the current system? I really can’t see my taxes raising $1,478 per year just to pay for health care. I just looked up the 2009 average family health care costs and WOW… it says $4,824 for an individual and $13,375 for a family… boy am I getting a deal! I guess this just brings my point home doesn’t it? Do you really think the average individual will have to pay more than $4,824 in taxes per year to support the national system?

    In regards to the issue of quality of medical care dwindling I say this; did you know the doctors in other countries who practice under a national health care system actually get paid MORE the healthier you are? They get paid more the lower their patients cholesterol is, the get paid more if you loose weight, etc. I remember my last visit to the doctors… they said “if the pain increases come back.” What the hell? Thanks for the help doc. Now, I just assume that if my doctor had an incentive to treat me and make me better (financial incentive from the government) I probably would have been treated differently, don’t you think?

    In regards to long waits… well I don’t know, what I do know is we can’t base all our decisions on what COULD happen…. as is most Americans outlook on life.

    Thus in summation, I believe it will be cheaper for us to have a national program; I also believe a national program will bring equal to or greater care because doctors will have a financial incentive to keep us healthy. And one again… we’ll have to just see how long the lines will get.

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