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Tuesday, May 31st 2005

The Uninsured & Universal Healthcare: Support (Part 2)

In this second post on the uninsured and the potential for universal healthcare, I discuss the pragmatic realities of our current healthcare system, other countries’ universal healthcare systems, and the incredible lack of understanding amongst the American populace about the differences.

I will not try to sugar coat the first issue, despite my opposition to universal health coverage. Study after study has concluded that the uninsured do not receive the same standard of care in this country as the insured do. Emergency care is obviously available, but ERs and county hospitals are poor treatment centers for chronic illnesses and the likes which, along with un- or late diagnosed major diseases such as hypertension and cancer, account for the increase in mortality seen from the insured to the uninsured.

Here is an article on an Institute of Medicine study on the issue.

What is surprising is that, in surveys, the majority of Americans with insurance believe that the uninsured receive healthcare similar to them in the form of ‘safety-net’ features such as county ERs.

Still, despite this perception, support for a universal healthcare system continues to grow, fueled largely by the increasing costs of medical care. Some polls such as this ABC/Washington Post poll from 2000, have found support for a single payer government run healthcare plan based off the Medicare model at above 60%.

This support, as ABC notes, is conditional, dropping below 40% if waitinglists for non-emergency care are part of the new universal healthcare system. They almost certainly would be.

Despite this apparent dissatisfaction with having to wait for care under a universal healthcare system, a plurality of Americans (nearly 40% in this ABC/Washington Post poll) think that Canada’s healthcare system is better than the United State’s. This despite the Canada’s incredible notoriety (like with most universal healthcare systems) concerning waiting times for care and doctor patient ratios.

In my mind, Americans seem to put a premium on the timeliness (and thus in some cases quality) of their care, but have little concept that both would most likely suffer in under universal healthcare. There are benefits for universal healthcare, it would raise the overall quality of healthcare for all by providing the currently uninsured with coverage. There are costs for universal healthcare as well, in terms of choice of providers and in the case of the performance of non-emergency procedures.

Tomorrow I throw out the most important arguments to consider when thinking about fixing the uninsured ‘problem’. Is there an inalienable right to a certain standard of healthcare? Does such a right trump a right to property and privacy (if such rights exist)? What is the nature of government’s responsibility to its citizens – equality or liberty? Can these two ideals be rectified or are they mutually exclusive?

All heady stuff, discussed forever by political philosophers far more competent than myself, but I’ll try to put it into light concerning the current question of the uninsured and universal healthcare.