Universal health care has been a proverbial unicorn for Democrats and Republicans alike for nearly a century. It is like that mythical creature that everyone has heard of, but no one can attain. It has been a failed issue for presidents dating back nearly a century to Teddy Roosevelt and his failed presidential bid in 1912. Many other Presidents have made healthcare reform part of their platform only to abandon those ideals somewhere along the way. FDR left it out of Social Security. Truman proposed national universal healthcare, which was taken up again by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, only to be derailed by Watergate. Jimmy Carter, who perhaps was the most recent President besides Obama to experience widespread economic problems, recognized that widespread healthcare wasn’t politically feasible with the economy in shambles. President Clinton, who campaigned for President on healthcare reform, saw his proposals shot down by opponents who labeled the reforms “HillaryCare” and orchestrated the famous Harry and Louise TV ads, which portrayed a middle class couple that no longer had any say in their healthcare because of big government’s influence.
With the long history of failed healthcare reform, the outlook for President Obama’s plan isn’t good. That being said, the President seems undeterred by critics. In addition to the President’s speech last week on healthcare, Obama spoke on Saturday in Minneapolis to a crowd of 15,000 to reinforce the need for healthcare reform. At the same time, crowds poured into Washington, DC, to participate in the “Taxpayer March on Washington” to protest healthcare reform, government spending, and other issues.
Why does the issue of healthcare reform polarize so many people? The answers are oftentimes ambiguous, but I believe there are three main areas that make the issue so complex. First, apart from religion, there isn’t a national issue more personal than health care. Because healthcare is such a personal issue, it invokes a lot of emotion. Second, healthcare is a very political issue. There are many different interests represented in the healthcare debate. Doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical and medical device makers, advocacy groups, and individuals collide to form the most complicated quagmire of a medical system in the industrialized world. Third, healthcare is an economic issue. Healthcare spending in the US will top $2.5 trillion dollars this year, which is about 16% of our gross domestic product (GDP). This represents over $8,000 per person. That is a whopping two and a half times more spending than any other nation in the world.
Although resistance to healthcare reform seems to be everywhere, the need for reform is larger than ever. Despite the high level of spending by the United States on healthcare, our country continually lags behind the rest of the industrialized world in meaningful healthcare gains. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which tracks healthcare and other statistics globally, the United States has a failing report card for its healthcare system. People in the United States go to the doctor less frequently but have the highest out of pocket expenses. The life expectancy in the United States is far below the median for industrialized countries and infant mortality is exceedingly higher. Malpractice insurance is another cause for concern. While malpractice premiums vary widely across the country, some physicians in areas like Miami, FL, have premiums in excess of $250,000 annually. The United States is the only industrialized nation without some form of universal health coverage. It is estimated that 47 million Americans do not have any type of health insurance; yet, it is illegal for hospitals to deny treatment to people based on their ability to pay. The bottom line is this: with healthcare costs and spending levels that continue to outpace inflation and wage growth, the United States has a system that is not sustainable over the long term.
President Obama stated over the weekend that he is the one that will be held responsible for the healthcare bill so he has every incentive to get it right. What do you think? Do we need to reform the healthcare system? What is the best way to achieve results that most of us can be happy with? I invite you to post your comments and suggestions below.
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Dave Baldwin is a businessman, musician, and divorced father of two boys. They live together in El Paso, TX.