This is the text of a speech I recently delivered at my Toastmasters group.
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Plenty of terms were bandied about in the recent discussions of health care reform, including “universal health care.” Universal health care simply means that everyone in a society is entitled to health care. The same way that we are entitled to military defense, fire protection, police protection, or highways to get us to work.
The idea of universal health care goes back to late 19th-century Germany. Otto von Bismarck was motivated by a pragmatic desire to keep healthy the people who were powering his country’s growing industrial machine. The idea was codified in the UN in 1948, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in part that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”
Universal health care has been proposed by presidents from one end of the political spectrum to the other: Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. Each of these presidents proposed some form of universal health care coverage during their term in office.
Universal health care is common around the world. Countries from South Africa to Egypt, from Turkey to China, from Argentina to Mexico offer some form of universal health care. Modern industrialized countries throughout Europe and in Japan, Australia, and Canada all provide comprehensive, high-quality health care at much lower cost than the U.S. system, and with better health care outcomes.
Universal health care is not necessarily socialized medicine. There are a lot of ways to implement universal health care. From socialized medicine to networks of private health insurance companies. From state-employed doctors and state-run hospitals to independent doctors, clinics, and hospitals. The details don’t matter as much as the principle – insure everyone – and the government’s commitment to ensure care for all of its citizens.
Universal health care is popular around the world. It is well-regarded by American leaders across the political spectrum. It has been implemented in virtually every kind of political environment. Then why don’t we have it here in the U.S.?
I don’t know.
There are plenty of organizations with a vested interest in the way things are: health insurance companies, doctors and the AMA, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment companies, attorneys. Anyone whose stock in trade relies on the current dysfunctional system is likely to oppose implementing universal health care.
OK, then why should we keep at it? Why should we keep pushing our leaders to adopt a universal health care system?
- it is simpler and therefore cheaper to manage than our current agglomeration of systems. One big insurance pool with common administrative practices would cost much less to manage than our current nightmarish spaghetti bowl of irrational bureaucracy.
- it provides incentives for preventative care. When you’re in the system cradle to grave, the system has an incentive to keep you healthy. Insurers in our current system hand people off as they move, or go from job to job, or when they turn 65, so no one insurer has much incentive to proactively help people stay healthy.
- it’s just how insurance works. The bigger the pool, the more rationally and fairly costs can be distributed – every other modern industrialized nation understands this. Why don’t we?
- it’s the right thing to do. It’s fair, ethical, and humane, unlike our current barbaric health care system. There are huge costs that we incur due to our present system, and not just financial costs. Our current non-system bankrupts 800,000 people every year who can’t pay huge medical bills. That’s 2,200 people a day going bankrupt simply because they got sick or injured. Worse yet, it lets 25,000 people die every year because they can’t get medical care. Think about that: every 20 minutes a person dies in this country because they couldn’t get care for a treatable medical condition, a condition that most of us would simply have walked into our doctor’s office and had treated. This just doesn’t happen in any other modern industrialized nation.
So let’s keep at it. Let’s keep pushing for universal health care coverage. If it’s good enough for the rest of the world, it’s good enough for us.
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Wikipedia page on universal health care