There are few issues so hotly debated amongst the American public than healthcare, and it’s easy to see why: healthcare affects literally every single human being living in the United States. As a result, there exist millions of distinct positions on how to improve the way Americans access care, and arguments on the subject typically reach a fever pitch.
The tone and ferocity of these discussions can make it exceedingly difficult to cut through the hyperbole and examine the real facts of the matter. However, stepping away from rhetoric and taking a closer look at data is just what we need to do if we are going to have a productive discussion about healthcare that can reach both sides of the aisle and help key players work towards an acceptable compromise for all Americans.
The word “compromise” is of particular importance when it comes to healthcare. You’ve heard the old adage: “if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one”? It applies here. Because healthcare affects everybody, there is no way to arrange it so that every single person is totally satisfied. The sheer range of different priorities and positions makes that an impossibility. Instead, we need to find ways to raise the level of discourse and bring down the
level of bombast. Facilitating a balanced and objective discussion about the issue is the only way our nation can hope to make meaningful changes that will result in the greatest good for the greatest number.
One of the most contentious areas of the raging healthcare debate in the United States surrounds the topic of the Affordable Care Act. Many on the right are vehemently opposed to the ACA because they see it as a step towards a single-payer system, while many on the left argue that it does not go far enough and is poorly organized. Although few people on either side of the issue are aware, both sides are correct in a certain sense. Let me explain:
Single-payer systems work in countries like Canada, where citizens pay higher taxes and the government can allocate more resources for providing essential public services. While larger or more complicated procedures can sometimes be difficult to access without spending some time on a waiting list, both simple care and time-sensitive life-threatening conditions are almost always accessible when patients need them. The success of universal healthcare in such countries has many people across the United States reluctant to let go of the ACA since they see it as being the most meaningful step by our country towards such a system thus far. The problem is that the Affordable Care Act is not tantamount to universal care. In fact, it lacks several provisions that a functioning single-payer system would require—provisions that parts of this country would find very difficult to provide.
Yes, the ACA was a compromise—but it may have been a compromise of the wrong kind. Instead of combining the best elements of public and private care the way other developed nations have done, it may have combined some of the most incompatible. For instance, most countries with functioning universal care do not fund their systems by raising premiums on specific demographics. Instead, they use a combination of funds from personal and corporate income taxes, sales tax, lottery proceeds and other sources. In this country, however, citizens are still required to purchase private insurance. What’s more, there are limited options available to buyers depending on their location and economic position, which often results in middle-class earners being saddled with higher premiums to help subsidize care for other demographics.
Since the government is unlikely to make the sweeping reforms necessary for a truly workable universal care system anytime soon, it may be more productive to focus on incremental changes that can be accomplished with relative ease. One such change that could mitigate the rising premiums faced by middle-class earners is insurance reform. Allowing people to purchase their insurance across state lines could expand the number of options available to them, preventing them from being forced into premiums that subsidize others at their own expense. It raises an obvious question though: if middle-class earners no longer must subsidize groups like retirees, how will members of those groups receive adequate care?
My opinion on this subject is unlikely to be popular with everybody, but as I said before: improving healthcare in this country is going to require compromise. The right kind of compromise now may involve rethinking how to use the assets we have instead of wishing for those we do not yet possess. In the absence of the kind of public funding that could only come from things like reducing our military spending or raising corporate taxes, we may have to refine the way we spend our current healthcare resources. Patients with terminal illnesses who cannot be cured or have their quality of life extended meaningfully may have to relinquish benefits in favor of providing care for those who can be saved with current technology and the proper level of medical attention.
Turning around the state of healthcare in this country is likely to be a long and arduous process, so my advice to you is this: take good care of yourselves and the people close to you. I hate to throw another idiom at you, but it’s a valid one—an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Try changing your diet to avoid meat and refined sugars. Incorporate regular exercise into your daily routines. Give up cigarettes. None of these things are likely to be easy or convenient, but they’ll be much less trouble than getting stuck on the wrong end of our country’s current medical system. If enough Americans make these changes, it will do more than simply provide them with a higher quality of life—it will also reduce the expense of running of our medical system, making it easier to provide affordable care for people who really need it.