In a perfect world with unlimited medicine and medical personnel, healthcare would be free to both patient and government alike. Not a single person will be surprised to hear that we do not live in a perfect world. So, we have to engage in a sort of policy triage to decide how we will treat people. The best way that we can do that is with universal healthcare.
Most people probably know that healthcare is expensive. According to The Atlantic, a significant amount of people know they have a problem that should receive medical attention, but they don’t see a doctor for the issue because they can’t afford it.
To more affluent segments of the population, that might seem odd. Yet, a report from the Federal Reserve Board shows that 44 percent of Americans could not financially meet a $400 emergency.
In a free market, competition would drive prices down, but that isn’t how healthcare works.
The very basis of the free market, an informed consumer, is impossible in healthcare when one considers that only a small portion of the population has the medical training necessary for informed choices. So, we cannot make decisions to allow for competition in quality. What’s worse, it can be nearly impossible to make decisions that would spur competition in cost.
Many hospitals are secretive about the costs of specific procedures, so much so that a study done by the University of Pennsylvania found that only 15 percent of hospitals would quote a price for an electrocardiogram test, but every facility was willing to give a price for parking. The hospitals that would quote a price varied by almost a thousand dollars, and the other 85 percent could be anywhere in that range, higher, or lower — there is no way to know until the operation is done.
Consider a project from Vox in which a man was unable to get a hospital quote for his wife’s delivery — something that is routine for healthcare workers, but something that is essential to new parents. Rich or poor, that is a health procedure every human will have some involvement with in their lifetime.
According to the American Journal of Managed Care, nearly all of medical care comes from emergency rooms. The situation begins to look like categories of people are forced to let their health degrade until they need the ER.
The affluent do not have to do that: they can afford to go see a doctor if they think there’s a problem. As it is, we prioritize patients on the basis of money and thereby socioeconomic class. Any decision for who will receive healthcare is hard, but who can afford healthcare should not be the deciding factor in who can get help.
I can appreciate the benefits of the free market. However, healthcare does not operate in a way that is conducive to the beneficial parts of a free market (i.e. lowering costs) while keeping on the ugly parts (i.e. prioritizing the wealthy).
I won’t say that universal healthcare from the government is perfect. Whatever priorities we as a society set, status quo or otherwise, limited resources mean that someone will have to wait for their healthcare. But when we have to triage people in line for care, I’d rather it be in favor of those waiting their turn in line, rich or poor, rather than just those who can afford to get to the line.