In just a few weeks, it'll be time to step into a booth and cast your ballot to decide the future direction of the country. Make no doubt about it: This is a monumental election to say the least.
There's a black man on the ballot for the highest office in the country and a woman on the ballot for the second-highest office. We're at war, oil prices are skyrocketing, and the economic outlook is bleak.
In fact, there are so many issues tied up in this election that it's easy to overlook one issue that I think is ripe to explode back into the American political debate again: universal health care.
The economy is cyclical. To some extent, so are oil prices. But I believe the debate over universal health care is here to stay--no matter who wins in November.
If Obama is elected, he'll try to push through a disastrous plan he's promoted since the primaries. If McCain wins, you can bet the Democrats in Congress are going to put universal health care front and center in their domestic agenda--if only to make McCain look heartless for opposing it--at least, that's what they would have you believe.
You see, America's liberals aren't shy about dragging out stories about people whose lives have been ruined by the rising costs of American health care. So, anyone who opposes universal health care must be a monster.
I have a better word to describe opponents of universal health care: Informed. You see:
The arguments for universal health care are built on myths and outright lies
It seems like any time I see someone interviewed about universal health care, it's either a politician pandering for votes or some family that had to sell its house so little Timmy could have a wart removed. I agree that America's health care system is a mess, and I don't want to see anyone bankrupted because of an unfortunate illness.
But that's where the common ground between me and universal health care folks ends. As you know, I'm a big believer in personal freedom, and a government-sponsored program was going to be a tough sell for me to begin with. But I also did some research on the most common claims made by universal health care supporters, and I found that their best arguments tend to be myths--or even outright lies. Here are the five worst:
Myth 1: Health care is better in countries with universal plans
Says who? This is one of those generalizations that starts to look ridiculous when you really analyze it. The number of foreign business and government leaders--many from countries with universal health care--who come to America when they need serious medical treatment is staggering. Those who don't get treated at American hospitals often fly American specialists to them.
I've traveled extensively in Russia and know what a proud people the Russians are. So I'll never forget when, in 1996, President Boris Yeltsin needed heart surgery and sent for a U.S. surgeon. He didn't dare let his country's own doctors operate on him.
By the way, Russia--which controlled practically half the world not too long ago--has managed to parlay its universal health care system into a life expectancy of right around 65. The average Iraqi lives three years longer than that--and Americans, with what some consider our inferior health care, live more than a decade longer.
The fact is, some nations with universal health care have longer life expectancies (barely) than the United States--but many do not. And even with the nations that do, there are plenty of other factors at play--such as genetics, diet, and lifestyle. The thought that the world's population is somehow healthier or living longer because of universal health care is purely liberal, feel-good lunacy.
Myth 2: A universal plan would take our health care system back from the insurance companies
For all the talk the Democrats dish out about conservatives being in the pocket of big corporations, Sen. Barack Obama would attempt to achieve universal health care coverage by relying primarily on private insurance. That's right--he would look to solve our nation's health care problems by giving control of the system to the insurance companies.
His plan relies on an "individual mandate"--a legal requirement that every person obtain coverage (and, naturally, the government would kick in billions to help make that happen). A better way to describe the program would be to call it "universal health insurance." Insurance companies would now be able to tap into billions in government subsidies to insure people whose business they wouldn't have gotten before.
If you think insurance companies are going to take it easy on Uncle Sam and keep costs down, think again. By forming ever-larger alliances of individual doctors, medical practices, clinics, hospitals, or groups of hospitals, insurance companies will exert ever more control over not only how medicine is practiced, but how much it costs, too. Insurance companies are going to protect and grow their profits--and our government will be writing the checks.
Myth 3: Universal health care ensures equal treatment for all
There are plenty of people who support the socialist nature of universal health care. Remember, it was known as socialized medicine before the liberals tried to dress it up with a more palatable name. But if you think socialized medicine, universal health care, or whatever you want to call it is going to provide equal health care to the rich and poor alike, you need to have your head examined.
Even in countries that have universal health care, there is often "supplemental" insurance that can be purchased--provided, of course, you have money. And you'd better believe that America's rich--and even middle class--won't be rushing to take advantage of the universal health plans. They'll get something better for themselves--either through their employers or on their own.
Universal health care would assign a baseline of care for the poor-- but everyone else would demand and receive better coverage. So what do you think the most talented, entrepreneurial doctors are going to do? Plenty of doctors today won't accept Medicare or state-provided insurance because of the mountains of paperwork and paltry reimbursement rates. I doubt they'll be any more in love with Uncle Sam's latest plan.
Believe me, our health care system would be as class-based as ever. It's the American way.
Myth 4: Universal health care amounts to a tax break for the poor and middle class
This flawed line of reasoning goes like this: The poor and middle class pay the highest percentage of their incomes for health insurance. So, a universal plan would put money back in their pockets, essentially becoming a tax break.
Of course, that whole argument is based on the assumption that a government-sponsored program would be run well. Good luck
If you think a universal health care plan won't become a multibillion- dollar boondoggle, I have a herd of magical unicorns I'd like to sell you. This is the same government that has run up a nearly $10 TRILLION national debt and has conceded that it can't account for billions of dollars in expenditures for the war in Iraq.
Our government, like Fredo in The Godfather, is stupid and weak. It will waste money. It will get ripped off. And here's how.
Aside from being put over a barrel by the all-powerful insurance companies, if the government is going to mandate that people have health insurance, it will have to create some enforcement component. Picture something like the IRS being established to enforce compliance. My fear is that any government branch with the kind of power to actually identify and penalize those seeking to avoid the insurance mandates of universal health care would be vast and all-powerful.
Myth 5: Universal health care will bring down drug prices
The government's providing a blank check for Americans' prescription drug needs is not going to bring down drug prices--I can promise you that.
Big Pharma is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington-- it practically controls the Food and Drug Administration. It will smell blood in the water and salivate at the opportunity to tap into billions in public funds. It will push new drugs through approval processes harder and faster than ever before and will use its lobbying influence to ensure that those drugs are always approved by any universal plan.
Big Pharma will continue to deploy its armies of sales reps across the country, wining and dining America's docs like never before, convincing them to write prescriptions for the latest wonder drugs. Those doctors--who will no longer have to consider whether a patient can really afford a prescription--will be only too happy to oblige.
Under universal health care, I predict we'll see more prescription-writing than ever before. Docs write prescriptions with limited conscience now--they'll be writing scripts with no conscience then. After all, the government is footing the bill. It will be a splendid time to be a Big Pharma CEO.
Before you fall for universal health care lies, consider the alternatives
OK, so universal health care would be a colossal disaster--but do the Republicans have a better solution? I think they do--but I'll admit that it's far from perfect.
Sen. John McCain's plan would include a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families and would make it possible to buy coverage through any organization. It would reduce but not eliminate reliance on employer-provided plans.
I like McCain's plan, but, ultimately, its success would depend on reducing costs. To do that, you can't just rely on the good nature of private insurers, who are, after all, part of a chain of dysfunction that has resulted in the skyrocketing cost of health care. McCain's plan, like Obama's, gives them too much power.
McCain says he wants to control health care costs, but he needs to make sure he is looking at the right culprits. We are never going to control health care costs in America until we reduce the influence of drug companies on practicing doctors, bring honest competition back to health care (instead of letting insurance companies set pricing for all docs in their networks), and reeducate doctors to practice medicine in a manner that is not so centered on drugs.
The easiest path for a doctor may be to write a patient a quick prescription for the latest fad pill, but that approach doesn't benefit the patient, and it adds unnecessary costs to our health care system. Let's start with simple solutions--such as making lifestyle changes instead of throwing pills at symptoms and conditions that really don't need to be treated. Do that, and you'll be able to sit back and watch how quickly our nation's health care costs drop. That should spell an end to politicians pushing for socialized medicine disguised as universal health care--and that would be better for everyone.