While access to health care may not be considered a “right” in the United States, it is certainly a necessity.
It is a necessity that is very expensive because health care in this country is more expensive than in any other industrial country on a total health care cost basis or a per capita basis. Health care costs are approximately 17 percent of our country’s GDP. Americans spend $3.3 trillion a year on health care. For almost all people in this country, access to medical care, particularly for any serious medical condition, requires insurance or participation in a government program.
The United States spends too much on health care for a multitude of reasons. Currently, we have a free-market/government-financed mix of health care finance tied to employment, age, income and other complicating factors. While people enjoy the right to access health care at their discretion, the system is not very efficient. Some critics even question how “good” our health care outcomes are.
Every dollar spent on health care is a dollar that cannot be spent on infrastructure, education, capital expansion in private industry or for anything else. Were we to spend less on health care, we could spend more on other goods and services.
Our political debates on health care, which are becoming ever more acrimonious, are about who gets to access health care, not the cost of the care or how to make the health care system more economically efficient. William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, suggests we should start with a blank sheet of paper and study successful health care systems in other countries with the goal of building the most effective mix of market and government-sponsored health care. That approach has merit.
Government already exerts its influence in all aspects of the health care industry. Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Administration health care account for more than 50 percent of health care dollars. Regulation is omnipresent in all parts of the medical care delivery system.
Surely we can improve on the status quo.
We can develop a health care system that all citizens know they can access when necessary. The system and its financing must be sustainable so that people can plan for the future. We can develop a health care system that will provide basic health care for all citizens. We can develop a health care system that gives those who want and need more choices access to those choices. We can develop a health care system that is not a political football. We can develop a health care system that is not a drag on the general economy with its excessive costs and bureaucracy.
Surely the great minds in the medical care industry and the experts in our universities can work with our political leaders to provide us with the best health care system in the world.
No longer can health care legislation be a political football where one party wins when they dominate the thinking of the other party. All parties involved need to remember that behind all the numbers regarding who has coverage and who will not have coverage are real people with real needs.