In the United States, the tragedy of privatized health care is exemplified by the financial ruin of those receiving care. In this case, the negative economic impact of medical costs are taken on by the individual—though there are those who imagine there to be some unforgivable quality about asking billion-dollar corporations to accept less money. (I’ll let you decide which conversation is worth having).
The very fact that such language once designated to describe sick people has evolved from “patient”, to “client”, to the soothing sound of “consumer” says more about the focus of privatized health care than anything else: PROFITS. Of course, the problem with this model is easily understood as a conflict of interest between the economic incentives of sick people being good for business, and the strangely elusive imperative that healthy people are necessary to keep a society going.
Let’s get one thing straight: talking about health care as a free-market commodity is INSANE. And I don’t mean that as a hyperbole in any sense of the device; I mean that comparing things like oil and gold to health care is the logic of an insane person.
I remember once debating the issue of health care as it translates to prices for the consumer. When you talk to supporters of privatized health care on the extreme right end of the political spectrum, you get a lot of talk about how to bring “prices” down on health care using traditional economic models in which health care is treated like any other commodity. Health care is not a commodity. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you recall Economics 101, supply and demand are inextricable, caught in an infinite negative correlation. (I’ll skip the boring parts that made you fall asleep in class and cut to the chase). When demand changes, prices change. The higher the demand, the higher the price. This is where health care ceases to adhere to the basic rules of free-market economics as a commodity. Firstly, health care is a NEED, not a want. People don’t need Prada bags and Louis Vuitton ice cream. They NEED health care. Because the demand for health care will never go down, the price will never go down. And because the population continues to grow, demand will continue to grow. And there you have it: the costs of health care will only go up. But more importantly, people have NO CHOICE but to pay the costs of health care because health care isn’t a CHOICE. Treating health care as a commodity is a REALLY clever way to have a legal monopoly on something people HAVE TO BUY.
People don’t wander into an ER uninsured and bleeding to death because they casually decide they WANT health care. It’s not a choice.
This is where things get funny, though. Republicans, especially, will try to turn this idea on its head by suggesting, however subtly, that health care is actually a choice, that people don’t need to get better, that they can simply just choose to be sick and die. This is the new free-market vision of the extreme right’s bold new “democracy”: a place where people are free to simply die by choosing NOT to get health care, by choosing NOT to take on a lifetime of debt. Those aren’t choices; those are a lack of options.
This is similar to the the way companies like Verizon and Optimum present their “triple service” deals. It’s presented to you in such a way that feels like you’re benefiting by getting all three services. But the second you decide to CHOOSE less, to CHOOSE something different than what they WANT you to choose, you’ll end up paying a lot more money for a lot less services. It is this ILLUSION of choice which is so prevalent in the private market and is now representative of the “new democracy” by which the extreme right swears. The illusion of choice is heavily controlled to bring about an outcome that is good for them and terrible for you. I once called AT&T and told them that $100 a month for a cellphone bill was too outrageous. Then I told them I’d leave if they didn’t find a way to save me money. The representative from AT&T spent 5 minutes trying to convince me that I was getting the best deal for my money:
“Sir, you really are getting the best value out of all our service packages: You’re getting the fastest and largest 4G network, 3GB of data…”
I cut her off.
“No ma’am. I’m sorry that’s not right. I barely use more than 100 minutes a month and you’re charging me for 450 minutes. That’s a really great deal for AT&T, but not for me. I have 4000 rollover minutes—clearly that’s not the best value for my money. Let’s forget about ideology, let’s talk math.”
The real America is about REAL choices born out of equal opportunity for all, not a culture that says, “You’ll choose from what I give you and like it”.
The Silliness of Socialism Propaganda.
One of the easiest ways to win an argument in America is to take a ideological standpoint that avoids having to answer to logic altogether. In this case, rather than ruling by logic, we rule by belief (regardless of whether or not that belief translates into sound policy). As long as you can scream louder than the other guy about how much you love your country, people won’t notice that you’re the one destroying it—until it’s too late.
I recently got into a political spat on Twitter with an extreme rightist whose “smoking gun question” was:
“So, health care is the government’s job now?”
My answer was a resounding: “YES. Just like like always.”
This kind of snarky question that marries government to a large responsibility is meant to invoke the age-old-democratic war on socialism. Most conservatives will actually claim that affordable health care IS socialism. This is the biological equivalent of asserting that every male orgasm is a child. The two may be related to one another, but one doesn’t necessarily create the other.
Our government is a system of ruling BY the people FOR the people, and was established to protect to people from enemies both foreign and domestic. The CDC (Center for Disease Control), Surgeon General, and FDA (Food and Drug Administration), are all systems used to preserve and promote the health of the American public. Children are required to get immunizations before attending school; you can go to prison on first-degree murder charges if you knowingly infect people with the AIDS virus; I mean, the list goes on and on to depict the government’s legitimate role in the health and well-being of its citizens. Healthy citizens are a HUGE pillar of civilization; without healthy citizens you don’t have healthy workers, you don’t collect healthy taxes, and you don’t have a strong military.
Health care is EXACTLY the job of the government. Just ask Congress: they enjoy federal health benefits at no cost to them.
Crusaders against The Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare), are the same people who have launched a scare campaign about deficits. Many Republicans have shaped their entire political careers around reducing government spending and public deficits. They do this, not surprisingly, by cutting social programs that help children, the poor and the elderly, while refusing to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Affordable health care, too, has become the target of deficit hawks who see The Affordable Care Act as a another program of spending that only drives up the deficit.
Occasionally the conservative right will mention how big spending creates “Big Government”, and therefore setting up public debt to be the enemy of Democracy and the patron saint of Socialism. But honestly, this idea is too far removed from the public’s everyday experience of government, it’s too abstract a concept when the average person experiences the freedom of speech and religious expression. This means to say that the average person can’t FEEL big government. So, when Democratic ideology fails, conservatives talk about people’s wallets—which undoubtedly gets their attention.
In this tactic, public debt is the chosen enemy of the people because it causes job loss and ultimately makes things “more expensive” for citizens through higher interest rates, etc. But, again, this is misdirection. Public debt doesn’t destroy the private wealth of people—private debt does.
In a book called “Debtors’ Prison”, author Robert Kuttner brilliant illustrates how the enemy of American economic growth is PRIVATE debt, NOT public debt. And, when you realize that medical bills (not shopping sprees and “living outside your means”) make up 62% of all private debt, you begin to understand WHY conservatives don’t want affordable health care for the majority of Americans. Slavery was abolished a long time ago. But when you can’t legally own a human being, the next best thing is owning their wages. Debt slavery is the new slavery. Control someone’s debt and you control their entire life.
The GOP’s FEAR of Affordable Health care.
Look, getting sick is not a matter of probability; it’s a matter of inevitability. There’s no way around it. You WILL get sick. Creating a private market profit machine that bets on health care as a commodity is an endless goldmine of debt. With medical debt being a large majority of private debt (student loans is next in line), that’s a HUGE amount of capital being sucked out of the free-market economy for NO gains toward collective economic growth. I say “collective” to mean that only the top 1% benefit from such heavy debt machines (health care and higher education).
If you were able to cut that debt in HALF with more affordable health care, the entire country would benefit from all that free capital being used to invest in research, education, and businesses. But that’s exactly the point. Freeing the majority from their debt frees them up to invest, gain wealth, power, and political persuasion—all dangerous components to contest the established order of the 1%.
Did you know that middle class Americans only own 0.50% of the nations stocks, bonds, and mutual funds? Meanwhile, the top 1% of wealthiest Americans own 50% of the nations investments. This means that business and research is being funded by a MINORITY. This translates to less diversity in ideas and less innovation—one of the fundamental aspects of American success and leadership.
I know a friend who pays nearly $500 a month on medical expenses (insurance co-pays, and deductibles). That’s insane. Imagine if they were able to invest that in a business, write a book, fund a political cause, or simply BUY more products and services in the economy. THAT’S economic recovery. THAT’S democracy.
Private medical debt is a means of controlling the majority. If you want to keep the power of the middle class low, you simply destroy their wealth. You destroy public funding that aids them in attaining education, nutrition, and proper health care. Then you destroy their wages. This erosion of wages creates more private debt. Load the people with a lifetime of debt, work, and poor health which they cannot afford to treat, and you keep them from creating a worthy opposition to your cause. If people are freed from the prospect of a lifetime of debt through the inevitability of getting sick, they become free to study, free to invest, and free to gather power—all the things that scare the GOP and the 1% of wealthiest Americans who fund them.