It’s time for socialized medicine in America


“Rich people should have better health care than poor people because…”

“People with critical injuries or disease conditions should face financial ruin because…”

“It’s okay to make people who lose their jobs pay more for health care than employed people pay because…”

Those who argue against the long-demonized concept of “socialized medicine” need to start their arguments with those phrases. Those who are uncomfortable saying those phrases need to re-evaluate the social and political realities of the health care system.

This issue of the NorthNews, with its Keys to Good Health section, offers an opportunity to consider an issue that’s as global as having your chest x-ray read by a radiologist in India (because that’s cheaper than having an American radiologist read it), and as local as the waiting-room time in a neighborhood urgent-care center.

Some sincerely believe a socialized system (often called “universal” or “single payer” systems) will have problems (it will), but those problems pale in comparison to the failure of the current system to get coverage where it’s needed, while billions of health-insurance-premium dollars go into executives’ and investors’ pockets.

The answer doesn’t lie in subsidizing expenses so health care might be perceived as more affordable. The answer doesn’t lie in penalizing people for failing to buy health insurance. The answer lies in acknowledging that health care is a right, not a privilege.

Rather than viewing health care as a calamity to be insured against, as one would view a house fire or a car accident, we should view health care as an ever-present web of prevention and protection, more like police and fire protection and water purification. Our standards for these services are universal (at least they’re supposed to be). We don’t have one standard of water purity for rich people and a lesser one for less-rich people, everyone in the city gets the same standard. The fire department doesn’t check our property tax statements before responding. Their job is to put out the fire, no matter who we are. In fact, in most communities, it’s the fire department–not the health care system–that provides the initial critical care in life-threatening medical emergencies.

American society has made numerous efforts to provide health care for the poorest of the poor, and the very rich can afford as much health care as they want. But for more and more people who are supporting themselves and trying to get ahead, health care means choosing to forego saving, education or a better house. Move a little further along the economic spectrum and health care becomes less and less affordable. It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: An illness or a layoff takes away income and access to affordable health insurance. Even if the newly-unemployed person has access to health insurance from the former employer, the price can be high, and a family that was middle class last week is now struggling to provide food and shelter. And many of those people give up their health insurance. Before, an injury or an illness would have meant a setback. Now, it could easily mean bankruptcy.

A working replacement system is already in place. It’s a shame that we have to wait until we’re 65 to participate. It’s called Medicare. Seniors have had socialized medicine for 40 years, and it hasn’t destroyed the health care system yet. Medicare has its failures and faults, as any large system will, but few would deny that those over 65 are living longer and better than ever.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have government-provided health care. Over many years, we’ve made some progress. We’ve accepted senior health care as a right rather than a privilege, and offer Medicare to everyone over 65. We’ve accepted first aid for life-threatening emergencies as a right rather than a privilege, and have the fire department handle it because they’re the best at getting qualified people to an emergency quickly. Is it such a stretch to accept that those younger than 65 and those whose health care issue isn’t an immediate life-threatening emergency have the same rights?

It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but it has to happen soon. Yes, it will take a bite out of every taxpayer’s pocket. And no, it won’t be perfect. But a universal, single-payer, and yes, socialized system is the only way to ensure that health care becomes a right for all Americans.