The dangers of politicizing health care
As the days of summer have waned, I have become more tuned in to the health care debate raging across the country. I deliberately ignored it during my time abroad, my intent being to focus all my attention on the sights and sounds around me. However, now that I have had time to catch up on the events I missed, I would like to comment on some aspects of the controversy that seem to have escaped peoples’ attention.
There is, of course, the obvious confusion of “health care” with “health insurance,” which helps muddy the waters of the debate, but that is a minor issue when compared to some of the other obvious misconceptions about the true nature of the problem, as well as the solutions that are advocated by the many factions involved. For example, I was pleased to see President Obama finally acknowledge last Wednesday that there aren’t 47 million Americans without health care, but rather “30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”
That admission goes against the longstanding misrepresentation of the nature and scope of the issue, put forward by those who support a government-sponsored health care system and repeated ad-nauseum by the vast majority of media outlets. As President Obama noted, the real number of citizens who have no health insurance is far less than 47 million and, in fact, as detailed in the Census Bureau’s 2007 report on “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States,” the actual number of truly uninsured citizens is certainly far lower.
First, one must subtract approximately 8 million uninsured children under 18, all of whom are eligible for coverage under programs such as State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that have already been put in place and are being funded. So now we are down to less than 30 million uninsured American citizens, but even that number is misleading because there are about 9 million uninsured in households that make more than $75,000 per year who choose not to buy coverage. Perhaps they do not feel they can afford it, or simply have other priorities, but either way we are down to only about 20 million uninsured that need help.
However, that number includes millions who changed jobs and were thus only temporarily uninsured. Therefore, instead of talking about massive government intervention in “health care,” we, instead, should be discussing some smaller-scale solutions to cover the uninsured.
First, we need to find ways to make sure those 8 million kids are getting the benefits they already qualify for. After that, we could find ways to help those in the middle class who have chosen not to buy their own insurance; perhaps by loosening the restrictions on the sale of health insurance across state lines to reenergize competition in the industry. This will make coverage cheaper for those families who feel they cannot afford it. Finally, there are relatively simple ways to address the problem of portability so people don’t lose their insurance when they change jobs.
We still need to find ways to cover the millions of people remaining, but that is a far less daunting and expensive proposition than the 47 million, or even 30 million, which proponents of Obama-care claim we need to cover. After all, the less of the responsibility for solving this problem we give over to the government, the less politicized the health care system will become.
The simple and undeniable fact is that any aspect of society we allow the government to get involved in becomes politicized as a matter of course. Politicians run government, and therefore any issue within the government’s purview is automatically a political issue. If, like me, you do not wish to see health care in America become even more politicized than it already is, you must recognize that the only way to accomplish that is to keep the health care system out of the hands of the politicians.
As one seeks a cautionary tale about the perils of handing power over to the Federal Government, one need look no further than the Department of Education. Brought into being by the Carter Administration in 1980, this bureaucratic monstrosity spent $68 billion in 2008, roughly 500 percent of what it spent in its first year. Can anyone honestly say that we have garnered any real benefit from that massive increase in funding since the agency’s founding? Not to mention that most of its budget is discretionary spending, which gives the federal government the ability to blackmail local school districts into complying with edicts from Washington, D.C., or risk losing grant money.
So, the Department of Education is a massive federal bureaucracy founded in order to fix the education system, and has clearly failed to do so. It has squandered untold billions of dollars and has achieved nothing beneficial in return. On the other hand, federal meddling in America’s schools has led to a dramatic politicization of the system, which continues to hamper our efforts to truly improve the education of America’s children.
What on Earth would lead one to believe that increased federal involvement in the health care system would be any different?
Ben Rudnick is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.