One institution noted for providing quality health care to the poor in this country is the criminal justice system. A recent footnote in The Week tells the story of a man who robbed a bank precisely because he needed urgent care. (“Medicare for All,” The Week, Feb/ 15. 2019, pg. 6.)
When I read the blurb, I didn’t laugh. I knew the story, and others like it, was a sad truth. While serving as an elected official, I was embroiled in the case of an inmate who needed extensive cancer treatment. The cost was catastrophic and the government refused to pay, arguing the man committed his crime for the specific purpose of receiving medical attention. Eventually, the prisoner sued, using a court appointed attorney to represent him. He won his case and soon got his chemotherapy treatments, courtesy of the taxpayer. I had no quarrel with that outcome, by the way. I raise it to show that healthcare — who provides it and who pays for it — is a convoluted subject.
On that note, a blog reader responded negatively to my comments about Howard Schultz the other day. The woman thought his opposition to a universal health plan made him an unacceptable presidential candidate. I replied she was correct in thinking Schultz was against universal healthcare. He preferred to tinker with the Affordable Health Care Act. I see no flaw in that position.
I’m not an economist or a person who specializes in health care, but I’ve had my fingers singed, trying to run interference in this system. In the 1980s, when the national economy nearly tanked, our county’s health program for the needy had to be gutted. To me, the deed was unthinkable, so, I stuck out my neck and proposed a 3 year bridge tax to save it and even expand the program to meet a growing need. None of my colleagues cared to join me. They had better survival instincts than I did. The best I can say about my crusade was it provided an education money can’t buy.
The number of people who lined up against my plan was mind-boggling. The business community opposed it, as might be expected. But physicians weren’t warm to it, either. Even Labor was reluctant to lay a tax of their working members. And, as might be expected, Insurance companies came unglued. What’s more, the media ridiculed the idea — their effort to provide cover to their advertisers who opposed the tax.
And what about John Q Public? Did he rise to cheer me on? Not a bit of it. I was a politician. I couldn’t be trusted when I said the tax would end in 3 years. The sole line of support I got was thinner than gulag gruel. Hospitals gave me a nod, hoping to keep indigents out of their emergency rooms.
Polls show that, in theory, people want universal health care. They lose enthusiasm, however, as facts emerge. They’ve no desire to lose the their employer’s insurance program, for example. They don’t want to face the prospect of changing doctors. And they certainly don’t want to pay increased premiums, which would be inevitable. Forget about taxing the rich. Experts project a universal healthcare system will cost $32 trillion over the first 10 years.
Doctors and hospitals won’t be happy either because their fees will be reduced. Worse, insurance carriers will fight to the death, because universal healthcare means their death. And, as for the glory of the Canadian system? Data shows more than a million patients are waiting for treatment at any given time. (Ibid pg. 6.) When all these facts become clear, “only 25 percent of U. S. Citizens polled still favor Medicare for all.” (Ibid pg. 6.)
Without a doubt, the American system needs to be fixed. No patient should be obliged to “Crowd Source” to pay for a kidney transplant. Nor should they feel compelled to commit a crime to get medical attention. But the logistics to effect change are enormous and the vested interests formidable. A Democratic Congress guarantees no magic and would probably divide among themselves, depending on the constituency. In the end, Schultz’s suggestion to patch up Obamacare looks far more doable.