This is my third posting on the health care “issue” we are currently debating in the United States. My first two, “What Is Your Response To Obama’s Socialism?,” and “If We Can’t Have Affordable Health Care Then Maybe We Should Try The Placebo Effect?” gave very little history of health care in America. For this posting, I hope to add a historical perspective and a few more of my personal thoughts regarding this all important issue before us.
As I have stated in previous postings, I think affordable health care for every citizen should be a right of citizenship. Now, I realize it is not in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers did state that we are “endowed with unalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is absolutely no question that in order to have life we must have health. But, that still doesn’t mean that affordable health care is a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Having stated that, I think it is as much of a right as that of prisoners, who are given the right to health care due to the “cruel and unusual punishment” part of the eighth amendment to our Constitution. Isn’t it curious that prisoners are guaranteed better health care than the citizens in our country who aren’t prisoners?
At the time our Constitution was written, health care was generally available to all citizens. Of course, health care was by no means as developed and sophisticated as it is today. Due to the poorly organized system of health care in the 1700’s, the framers of the constitution most likely saw little need to include health care as a specific right.
Our health care system and our country are very different from what existed in the late eighteenth century. Life expectancy at birth has changed from 40 years to 76 years and due to the many scientific advancements, the potential for a quality life is enormous. This also has made our health care extremely expensive, costing us over a trillion dollars a year and consuming over 13% of our gross domestic product. As we have greater capability to have a longer quality life, the financial ability to provide the necessary services to all of our citizens is declining.
Currently, health care is a right only for prisoners. Health care is a privilege attained by the wealthy. Health care is a benefit provided by some employers. It is a government subsidized insurance plan for the elderly and military. And, it is a charitable gift for some of the poor. What kind of health care system is that? Should health care be a privilege or right?
How have we paid for health care since the beginning of the 20th century? We started out by paying for health care through the consumer. Generally, consumers paid cash – 25 cents for an office visit and 50 cents for a house call. After World War I, the cost started rising and quickly exceeded the low wages being paid to workers. At that time the Blue Cross insurance plan was created to help with the high cost of hospitalization. Soon after, Blue Shield was created to help with doctor’s fees. The two insurance plans were methods of funding that spread the costs between those who needed services and those who didn’t. This worked as long as everyone didn’t use the services funded by the two insurance systems.
After World War II, health care costs began to rise sharply due to rising hospital costs, physician costs and new expensive medical procedures. Insurance premiums rose because of these sharp increases; in the Fifties our government gave a new direction and relief by providing tax advantages to employers that purchased health care policies for their employees.
In 1965, our government realized that two important parts of our citizenry were not covered by employers. This is when the Medicaid and Medicare programs were established to provide health care for the poor and elderly. Both of the programs were financed through general taxes and/or payroll taxes.
The system for funding health care has changed considerably over the years. We have had many different approaches, most of them lasting for a few years and then having to change due to the changes in medicine, government, economy, etc. Shouldn’t we develop a system for healthcare that doesn’t depend on insurance, physicians, hospitals, and future scientific advancements, but instead is more flexible and interdependent?
Today, as healthcare costs rise above our current ability to fund it, we are again faced with solving another problem of how to pay the costs. We must change the way we view healthcare and face the question of whether or not it is a privilege or a right. You know what I think; what do you think regarding this important issue?
The current insurance system must be changed. Today’s health insurance premiums depend on the overall expense, the profits of insurance companies, the cost for lobbyists, the administration cost and last but not least, the inefficiencies of the system. Like at the beginning of the 20th century, World War I, World War II, the Sixties, etc., we are again at a crossroads of history. We need to use our historical thinking, our business thinking, our governmental thinking, our political thinking and our democracy thinking to solve the problem of providing reasonable and affordable health care to all of our citizens.
Currently in America, prisoners are the only group who are specifically granted the right to health care. Most likely the founders of our country, if they could have predicted the importance of health care, would have granted that the same standard of humane treatment be extended to every citizen. Since the founders didn’t, shouldn’t we?