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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
The U.S. is notorious for being the only developed nation on earth without a universal health care system, a fact which leaves tens of millions of Americans without access to medical care. The U.S. health care system also holds the dubious distinction of being the most expensive: we spend more per capita than any other nation on earth, yet we routinely attain only mediocre results.
Clearly, something is wrong when the wealthiest nation in the world cannot provide adequate medical care to its citizens. All ethical considerations aside, the evidence strongly suggests that our the privatization of our health care is the cause of the massive inefficiencies that characterize it.
A single-payer, not-for-profit health care system is the ideal solution. But given our current economic woes, can we afford it? Opponents of a public system contend among other things, that the costs would be prohibitive, and that such a system is simply not feasible. The purpose of this post is to challenge that supposition, and demonstrate that not only is a public, universal health care system possible, it is in fact far more pragmatic than the current state of affairs.
Before getting to the number crunching, it is important to note that this post is not intended to address the mechanics of how to actually implement such a system, but merely to show that we could easily afford it if we were so inclined. So let’s get down to the numbers, which I will be drawing from here:
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the United States leads the world in health care expenditures, spending a staggering $7,538 per person each year. Extrapolating from that figure, we see that approximate health care expenditures in the U.S. equal roughly $2.26 trillion per year – a substantial figure by any estimation.
As anyone can see, this figure is too high. Health care costs in the U.S. have been artificially inflated by insurance companies which strive on maximizing profits while denying care, and pharmaceutical companies who charge extortionate prices while being protected by draconian intellectual property laws. The cost of health care has nearly doubled since 1995, a fact which can be attributed to these parasitic entities. There is absolutely no reason for medical care to cost so much in the United States. Tellingly, Japan spends roughly 1/3 the U.S. amount on health care, but has attained the world’s longest life expectancy – and this for one of the most expensive countries on earth.
If the U.S. removed the price-gouging influence of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, there is no reason to believe we could realize costs similar to those in Japan. Presuming we spent an identical $2,729 per capita, our health care costs would drop to a much more manageable $818 billion. Such a figure is obviously quite optimistic, but there is no reason to believe we couldn’t reduce costs to match those of neighboring Canada, a nation which spends a modest $4,079 per person. If we could reach this extremely conservative figure, total health care costs in the U.S. would drop more than a trillion dollars to $1.22 trillion per year – a much more workable figure. It is my contention that we could reach this figure without raising or creating any additional taxes.
First let’s examine what we already allot for the government-regulated health care programs Medicare and Medicaid. According to KFF, each program spends roughly $300 billion per year, for a total of $600 billion. Without the price-inflation resultant from our privatized health care system, our current expenditures for Medicare and Medicaid could cover roughly half of the $1.22 trillion total suggested above. This leaves a relatively meager $602 billion in remaining costs, which can readily be met through a more practical structuring of the federal budget.
I am referring here, of course, to our indefensibly bloated military budget. According to official budget records, the Pentagon is allocated some $687 billion every year, a figure which dwarfs the world’s number military spender, China, which spends a paltry $114 billion. This astounding figure does not even take into consideration related operational costs, such as those associated with the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – among others. There is absolutely no fathomable reason for the U.S. to spend six times as much on its military as a nation that has a population four times as large. It is the most flagrant and extravagant misuse of taxpayer money on the books, and yet the military budget is invariably considered to be sacrosanct. Such a state of affairs is utterly unacceptable.
My heretical proposition is this: stop wasting our national wealth on death and destruction, and spend it instead on helping every American realize that most basic of all human rights, access to effective and efficient health care. Slash the military budget to a much more reasonable – but still grossly inflated – $100 billion per year, including all related operational costs, and suddenly universal, not-profit-health care becomes a tangible reality, rather than the impossible dream it has long been held to be.
In contrast to what we have been led to believe through generations of corporate indoctrination, a public health care system is both attainable and desirable, and speaks to the very core of who we are as Americans. Do we wish to define ourselves as a nation that spends countless billions on the means of death and destruction, or a nation which tends to the weak and sick, and leads by example in the march towards the global recognition of inalienable human rights?