In a recent column, Brad Williams defends Republicans against what he perceives as unfair bashing at the hands of liberals. These liberals, according to Williams, are falsely portraying Republicans as against health care reform when they are in fact against national health care. Williams supports health care reform, but not "socialized medicine." I think Williams' statements merit a response.
First, Williams comments that "the liberals like to say that there are 37 million uninsured Americans." I fear that language like this trivializes the entire process of health care reform. This is not a debate about liberals versus Republicans (as if those were the only options). Someone says the liberals are bashing the Republicans, so he bashes the liberals. Meanwhile, people are without basic immunizations, prenatal care, pediatric care, etc. It's always easier to solve a problem (or ignore it) if we conveniently portray it as a political distinction rather than a human issue.
Second, Williams denies that 37 million people are uninsured. As proof he cites a 1990 Census Bureau study, which sets the figure at 10 million. Without attacking the Census Bureau report, I think it should be pointed out that the 37 million figure is very widely accepted. However, suppose that something between 10 million and 37 million is correct, say 23 million, isn't this still a significant number? And yes we could as Williams suggests, subsidize those 23 million, but this would not end the insurance problem. The problem is not limited to those without insurance now. As Williams failed to point out, a major concern is that the third-party payment system (private insurance) fails to control the escalating cost of health care. Hence, each year fewer people can afford the ever-increasing costs of both health care and insurance.
Finally, Williams speaks as if nothing other than socialized medicine, by which I assume he means a single-payer system, has been discussed, considered or proposed. In fact, President Clinton does not endorse a single-payer system. The reforms which he offered entailed revamping, but essentially left intact, the third-party payer system, which is the antithesis of socialized medicine.
While I realize that there exist strong (though not conclusive) independent reasons against the United States instituting a single-payer system, I would like to offer a couple of thoughts to thsoe who fear "socialized medicine." One is that while the United States leads the world in per capita spending, we do not come close to leading in any of the major health categories such as life expectancy or infant mortality. My other thought is really a suggestion. The next time you think that all we need is reform rather than national health care, ask yourself if you are thinking we can cover everybody without a single-payer system, or if you are really thinking that this will never happen to you.
Philosophy Grad Student
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