Friday, August 14, 2009

Medicare and the US "debate" over health care

We have heard much in recent days from opponents of health care reform in the US that the government should not run free health care programs. One concern is that government-provided health care is "socialism" and, therefore, "bad" by definition. A second concern is that any government-provided health care program would involve "death panels" where strangers will choose whether or not to pull the plug on grandparents.

How should we respond? First, free government-provided health care provision is already available in the United States. It's called "Medicare" (see here). Medicare is also one of the most popular programs in the US. If government-provided health care provision is "bad" (because it will be less efficient than private providers or because it is socialist), then why are opponents of health care reform in favour of Medicare? I have yet to find anyone amongst the "tea baggers" (or "birthers") who argues that Medicare is "socialist" or "bad" or "un-American" (although this was what some rightwing critics claimed at the time it became law). If Medicare is "good," then not all free government-provided health care provision is "bad" --- and the case against health care reform begins to unravel.

Secondly, would government-provided health care provision involve "death panels"? No. One reason is that there already is government-provided health care provision -- specifically, for those over 65 years of age -- and there are no "death panels" to be found. A second reason is, well, there are no plans for "death panels" at all. In fact, the claims that "death panels" will be part of the plans arise only from out-of-context hack jobs from the past publications of persons associated with advising Congress on how best to pursue reform. No proposal makes provision for "death panels." I think the best challenge here to those who say it does is this: "so on which page do proposals endorse death panels, panels that will act as you claim they will do?" There are no page numbers to cite because it doesn't appear.

I wonder what opponents might say in reply. I suspect that --- given how strongly they argue against the government running any health care provision --- they simply must oppose Medicare. Furthermore, they may be right to keep a close eye on the details, but it is disengenuous to oppose plans because of a provision (e.g., "death panels") that nowhere appear in the plans.

UPDATE 1: Those who think that criticism of the proponents of health care reform is some crazed "leftwing elitist" plot would do well to reflect on David Cameron's statement today that the NHS is his "number one priority" (here). When the party of Thatcher continues to support the NHS so strongly, rightwing opponents of health care reform should consider just how far to the right they genuinely are.

UPDATE 2: An interesting story here on US health care.

No comments: