August 14, 2009 | General, Healthcare Debate
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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