Sunday, July 26, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #73: Shaking up Health Care

All sides in a debate need to agree upon the terms they're using. Otherwise, it's all spin and no progress. Let's get this rant started:

President Obama wants to shake up the current American health care system by instituting a government-run alternative to the existing health insurance and health care companies. By adding a new force in the marketplace, the argument goes, costs could become fairer. More importantly, uninsured people could afford some form of coverage and receive treatment if/when necessary. From what I hear in the news and press conferences, the President promotes his plan as such: It is an additional option to join the field of existing providers.

The opposition to this plan is opposed to the notion of universal health care, socialized medicine, and government-run health care (and whatever else it is called) in the United States. The loudest of the opposition (mainly from the Republican Party) identifies the President's plan as such. I suspect that a slippery slope form of logic was applied to the President's argument for a government-run option. I can't get into the collective heads of the opposition, but let me try to understand the rationale for their spin: If the Federal government provides this option, the market would shift in favor of going to the government for health care/insurance/whatever. Private health care companies, in turn, cannot compete with the government's prices and can no longer profit (as is the function of for-profit entities). With no profit, shareholders have no more motivation to invest in these companies, and along with other factors, these companies would have to fold. In this market vacuum, the government-run option becomes the only option, and thus is born universal health care. Is that the Republican rationale against Obama's plan?

For this debate to rise to the next level, everyone (as many as possible) needs to get their terms straight. Is this current debate (1) about universal health care, which isn't being pushed by the Administration, or (2) about the costs and benefits, the pros and cons, of a government-run option?

If it is the former, then the debate will go nowhere. Fiscal conservatives decry universal/socialized/government-run health care, but fiscal liberals deny that that's even the issue. Many conservatives believe that the government-run option would eventually descend into a government-run monopoly. Many liberals (or at least those who support Obama's plan) would counter that the argument is nothing but a slippery slope fallacy and paranoid sensationalism. Strangely enough, the liberals who don't (totally) support Obama's plan would say that the President's option-goal doesn't go far enough, and that they actually want a true nationalized, socialized, universal health care system. In all these cases, the "debate" would be full of spin and go nowhere.

If it is the latter, then the debate may go somewhere. All sides should agree to not jump the gun, to not slide down a slippery slope, but instead consider the immediate plans proposed by the President. Especially in this still-down (but optimstic?) economy, all sides should weigh the immediate effects a bit more than the long-term consequences of the Obama option plan. The debate should be centered on practical matters: Whether the government can actually shift its budget to accommodate these plans, whether taxes are involved and who pays them, and if the pros (positive effects on American livelihood and society) outweigh the cons (mostly all the money issues involved). Buzzwords, hype, and fear-mongering need not be a part of this important debate.

The demagogues who insist on distracting from the true issues of the debate are politely asked to behave themselves while the adults speak. Even the noisy spin has its own spin: Canada is often used as a point of comparison when it comes to debate analogies. However, is Canada's universal health care system good (as various Web-identified Canadians say) or bad (as various other Web-identified Canadians say)? And are these Canadians actually Canadians?

As for me, I think the health care system in America is unwieldy at best, broken at worst, and definitely needs some sort of industry-wide shake up. Whether or not Health Care 2.0 (ooh, I'm ironically getting buzzwordy) involves direct action from the Federal government is, of course, up for debate.

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