Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The solution to the health care debate

Arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act are being heard as I’m writing this. It's hard for me to say how it will turn out, when the Supreme Court finally sorts this out. Not only am I not a lawyer, but I'm not sure I understand how the required purchase of health insurance even works.

Still, I am totally in favor of universal health care in America, however it is achieved, as soon as possible. I understand that some see the ACA as a half-step toward that goal. And, I understand that others who want the same thing as I do see Obamacare as a dead end. On top of that, I can understand why still others say Obamacare is unconstitutional. 

However, outside the courtroom ordinary citizens might argue that health care in today's world has become integral to our rights to “life” and the “pursuit of happiness.” With regard to precedents for mandates, they might point at laws that require motorcyclists to wear helmets and people in automobiles to wear seat belts.  

But others might say their right to “liberty” means the government shouldn’t be able to force them to buy something they don‘t want, just to protect themselves. They would use that logic to stiff-arm the point that governments already force drivers to buy liability insurance, because it protects the health and property of others. They might also say they helmet and seat belt laws should be tossed out, along with Obamacare.

So, to me, the most import reason for extending health care to all citizens should rest on something less abstract than the pursuit of happiness or protecting an individual's liberty. It should be totally practical and be based on what's good for the commonweal.

Here's my take in a nutshell: America’s greatest natural resource is its citizenry -- it’s workforce. The federal government should protect that resource above all others in every way it can that's feasible.

Reared in a literate, freedom-loving society, America’s sons and daughters work every day to build a good life. In their pursuit of happiness they establish families and build communities.

Moreover, just as we have recognized that other vital natural resources need to be protected from amoral fast-buck artists, why would we not choose to also protect our families' wage-earners in the most effective way we can?

Otherwise, what's the practical point of protecting the water we drink, or the animals with which we share the planet?

A few years ago there was a scandal in America over poisonous toys that had been imported from China. It was found that some of the materials weren’t safe, health-wise, for children to handle. The toys were pulled off retailers’ shelves.

Those toys never made it into France. Like some other civilized countries, the French regulators never let the toys across the border, in the first place.

France had rigorous standards and inspections that kept those bad toys out of the curious hands and mouths of French kids. They didn't have to recall the dangerous products, because in France the standards were higher and the regulations were already in place. People were put before profits.

Why?

It’s actually simple -- France picks up the tab on everybody’s hospital bills.

Since France’s government has a stake in keeping French children healthy, its government naturally feels obliged to move proactively to reduce risks. One day those French kids will either be healthy, or unhealthy, workers. In this sense, France is doing more to protect its future workforce than we are.

When the government pays the health care bills, it follows that it will take more of an interest in protecting everyone’s health. In the long run, as far as paying for a nation’s health care goes, investing in prevention is practical because it will save money. More importantly, it protects the workforce. 

Universal health care with periodic mandatory examinations is the only way to monitor the spread of dangerous diseases that could become epidemics, which have the potential to put the kibosh on the economy, to say the least.

It seems to me that eventually America will embrace a single-payer universal health care system.

Bottom line: Will a healthy America choose to walk upright to that inevitability? Or, will it crawl toward it on its belly, sick and tired?

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