Tuesday, 03 January 2006
The Universal Healthcare Tradeoff
As was easy to predict, every “lifestyle” columnist at every medium and small town newspaper in America is writing this week about aging baby boomers. A large number of them have focused on the boomers’ huge and negative impact on the healthcare system…
…and their hysterical tone suggests it will happen by tomorrow afternoon.
Will these paid fear mongers please get a grip. It’s not as though every one of the 78 million boomers became senile on 1 January 2006. In terms of averages, as of today about 22,000 have turned 60 and as the boomers like to say, 60 is the new 30.
These reporters may be hazy and lazy about the effects of a growing elder population on our healthcare system, but they are headed in the right direction. Boomers may not believe it yet, but age does bring with it increased numbers of ailments, minor and serious, and we must find ways to treat them all while not shorting children and mid-life adults. And we must do it soon.
A far better approach for journalists who are over-enamored with the boomers would be to do some serious homework on the crumbling healthcare system and suggest some remedies. Those of you who read yesterday’s post here know that I favor universal healthcare. In fact, I don’t just favor it, I believe it is the only possible solution.
Two readers – one from Canada and one from the U.K. – left comments describing how universal healthcare systems work in their countries. Ell of the pomegranate tiger blog explained how Canadians pay a small monthly premium on a sliding scale, determined by income. Koan of multidimension.me described Britain’s free national health service.
To meet the health needs of their populations, obviously both are subsidized by other kinds of taxes. And that means tradeoffs – which will also be necessary when the Congress finally – with our badgering - wakes us to this need in the U.S.
Available dollars go only so far and as every average-income adult knows, no one can have it all. Priorities must be set: saving for a down payment on a home; saving for the kids’ education; saving for a new car; or a long-dreamed-of vacation means other desires must be set aside. And so it must be with the federal budget.
There is nothing more important than providing healthcare for every American citizen and it is a good idea for each of us to think about what we are willing to do without – personally and nationally - to gain it.
Eliminating Congressional pork projects such as last year’s Alaskan bridges to nowhere is a good idea. Jimmy Porter, in a comment on yesterday’s post suggested decreasing military and weapons spending.
Increasing corporate taxes and disallowing registration of corporations in no- and low-tax countries overseas is another good idea. Rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would help a lot.
As with our graduated income tax, it has long been a tenet of American social justice that those who have more, pay more into the system. This has been eroded under the Bush administration and the richest one percent of the population now holds 40 percent of the all the country’s wealth while paying much lower taxes than before Bush. The haves - who almost entirely run the federal government - must ask themselves how much is enough and start giving some back.
In a minor variation of the 20/80 business rule, ten percent of the population accounts for 70 percent of healthcare spending. The smaller number who use more of the health system deserve no less care than the rest because, as I said yesterday,
Healthcare is a human right and a public responsibility we all share. It is our moral obligation, individually and collectively, to ensure that every citizen has access to healthcare and if we do not guarantee that, if it is available only to the rich, we have failed as human beings and as a nation.
The obscenely wealthy along with the ordinary wealthy must realign their priorities, but the rest of us average Americans shouldn’t get off scot-free. It is crucial to ask ourselves what we - in our personal lives and in government expenditures - are willing to give up, and where we are willing to pay more to gain universal health coverage. Any suggestions?