Iason Togias (Liberal) vs. Taylor Barker (Conservative)
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From birth, we have been barraged by images of America as the land of independence, and I’m not just talking about “Star-Spangled Banner” brand patriotism. The term “independence” has many different meanings and applications, not the least of which is “self-reliance.” Cowboys roughing it out in the Wild West, gold prospectors giving up everything for a chance at some nuggets, small business owners morphing overnight into multi-billion dollar tycoons—the idea of the self-made man and the rugged individualist is omnipresent in our society. In the land of independence, it is expected that if you work hard, you will rise, and if you’re a lazy bum, you will fall—your fate is completely and irrevocably within your hands; it’s simply the way things work. It is through this seamless logic that the myriad of conservative minded people in this country battle against Universal Health Care. According to the Right, privatized health care is available to every citizen of the United States, as long as they’re willing to work for it. This way, the government stays out of the picture, the free market remains in control, and, most importantly, taxes stay low.
Right off the bat, it’s pretty easy to see the gaping holes in the “you get what you deserve in America” philosophy. Though we would all love for it to be true, citizens of this country are not free from the constraints of circumstance. According to the National Poverty Center, a staggering 19 percent of children in the United States were living in poverty in 2007. With a direct correlation between a family’s income and the academic success of the children in that family, it comes as little surprise that children born into poverty, when compared to children from higher income families, have an exponentially slimmer chance of growing up to live above the poverty line. This situation makes it almost impossible for the low income demographic to ever pay for privatized health care. There is Medicaid, but that is restricted to a group of citizens who, in addition to living below the poverty line, fulfill certain requirements. This leaves everyone else who can’t afford coverage in a state of uninsured limbo. It is true that recent steps taken by the senate and the Obama administration, such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, have helped spread coverage to a wider group of people, but there is still a large number who go uninsured, most notably homeless people, who often suffer from debilitating psychiatric illness.
Now, let’s pause for a moment and assume that the “you get what you deserve in America” vision were true: should this really change anything? It seems that, with this topic especially, people have lost focus of the most important issue at hand, that being morality and human rights. When dealing with the numbers and statistics of those who go uninsured and those who die due to a lack of coverage, it’s very easy to forget that behind each statistic is an actual human being. That we, as members of a society, can willingly deny a person the right to live is truly shocking. This laissez-faire approach to health care is, literally, no different than watching someone bleed to death and doing nothing to stop it—only that we possess the luxury of not having to physically be there.
Though it may be an endlessly recycled cliché, it’s true that we tend to lose awareness of those around us, constantly narrowing our focus down to personal concerns until we’re completely oblivious to everyone else’s. A lack of Universal Health Care is the physical manifestation of this flaw, a demonstration of our own callousness and forgetfulness. It’s high time that we, as individuals, remember what it means to be part of a society and stand by our social contract. Will the taxes of higher income families need to be raised in order to amend this? Sure, but a few extra dollars never killed anybody.
America has a problem, and the problem is health. At any given time, there are 47 million uninsured US citizens, ten million of which are in need of assistance on paying for their health care, and countless more who could lose their insurance coverage if they were ever in desperate need. The only solution, the proverbial cure, then would seem to be a government safety net, keeping us safe if we ever fell through the cracks of our insurance policy. However, and life is full of howevers, the question then is whether the cure is worse than the disease.
The first problem is one that already is evident with our current system: the wild inefficiencies. A recent study by the Massachusetts Medical Society found that five out of six doctors perform tests whose only purpose is to prevent them from being sued, and in no way actually helps the patient; overall this adds up to 25% of all total procedures. This wastes on average $200 billion a year, money which could be used to give every uninsured family of four $20 thousand a year. By eliminating the current incentives for irresponsible and frivolous lawsuits, such as uncapped punitive damages, we would reduce medical costs for all. This does not mean doctors who actually malpractice would go unpunished since they would still risk loss of livelihood or other penalties. Unfortunately, the health reform bill does nothing to solve this most significant cause of medical inefficiencies. An equally pressing issue is that fact that now, and in the new plan, many have to buy their health insurance through their place of work. There is no real reason for this system, which is mostly just an accident resulting from WWII, and what’s more makes you locked into your job once you get it for fear of losing your insurance. This lack of mobility is bad for everyone in the workforce, fresh or experienced, and the tax breaks it forces the government to give for businesses cost it up to $250 billion a year, thus giving businesses less of a reason to buy cost effective health care. This could be solved with one simple change: allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. This would change the current system where, for example a Virginia resident could not buy insurance from a Pennsylvanian provider. This increase in the market would break regional monopolies and drive down both cost and increase efficiency by increasing competition.
In addition to its failure to tackle the inefficiencies and waste of the current system, the second problem with the new health reform law, as most of us have heard, is death panels. But of course we all know there won’t be death panels. We know that because any reasonable person knows the federal government won’t kill a US citizen. Thus a while ago, someone told me that people should not ever have to pay for health coverage. The obvious question was, then who? to which the response was, the government. But the problem there is rather obvious: who pays for the government? and of course, people do. So we have the people’s money, being flowed through the government, back to the people in the form of a health insurance plan. So now the government, the quintessential middle man, is not only likely going to lose tens of billions of dollars along the was in waste but going to decide where your money goes. And once they start deciding, they have to decide on which treatments to use and the most cost effective options, because they won’t have unlimited money. The thing there though, is that your elected official won’t ever want to be the bearer of bad news, that not even money can forever keep you alive, and will appoint bureaucrats to do that in their stead. So now we have non-elected officials deciding when that cutoff point will be, deciding when it is more cost effective to build a safer road than save your life. The British government, whose health care system is one ours will likely mirror, admits that it puts a price on the value of a year of life.
The final issue is one that may seem the least important of all objections to us non-sticklers, but it is the law. The new bill requires everyone, rich and poor, to buy health insurance, or else they may face a tax penalty. This tax is an attempt to stop the extra trillion dollars a year from overwhelming our already serious national debt. This is basically a penalty tax imposed by the Congress on anyone doing something they don’t approve of. While this “thing” may seem here to be rather selfish, it is commendable to encourage everyone to buy health insurance, there’s nothing to stop this precedent from growing into a tax on anyone who doesn’t exercise, also arguably bad, or not voting for the ruling party, because the other party wants to do bad stuff. Fortunately, we have something to protect us against our politicians being corrupted by unlimited power. Thc Constitution limits the power government has over the average American. But if Congress has the power to regulate decisions as personal as whether to buy health insurance by imposing tax penalties, then there really aren’t any limits, any line in the sand protecting against tyranny.
So what are the obstacles which prevent us from overcoming these barriers to our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? The most obvious is with the inefficiencies: tort lawyers, those who menace doctors with expensive lawsuits, are the single largest donators to the Democratic Party (and one should wonder why they need to give so much.) Repealing the law forbidding interstate individual purchase of health insurance was proposed by John McCain. So both torte reform and insurance market reform are political suicide for the current regime. The very real possibility that government regulation will evolve into something like “death panels” is ignored by the people, the only ones with the power to fix it, because it’s a frightening concept that the government will be relatively pragmatic with your life, and more importantly, because Sarah Palin advocated this theory. And as for the Constitutional issue, no one should ever think that the government will willingly limit its own power without the people demanding it.