Monday, May 18, 2009

Socialized health care.

"Every reasonable human being should be a moderate socialist." -- Thomas Mann.

As I was out running errands today, I saw two different anti-socialism bumper stickers. Living in a state that has occasionally been called the People's Republic of Oregon, I found that a bit surprising. Sure, I'd heard the word socialism thrown around during the last election, generally by folks who seemed to be equating it with Soviet style communism. And there has been some noise about not wanting to be like Europe with its social democracies. But I'm skeptical that those tossing the word around and labeling it as "EVIL" really understand the economic and political concepts behind the word. I'm beginning to believe that the term has become merely a synonym for "whatever we don't like" for some people.

There are at least 5 different definitions of the word socialism in the dictionary, ranging from the Marxist transition phase of society to the idea of state socialism where major industries remain privately owned with some legislation aimed to benefit working people. A moderate socialism would seem to fall into the later definition.

One of the first things I learned in philosophy class was to define what the terms mean before you engage in a debate over them. Currently, I think a lot of the hue and cry over socialism arises from people using more than one definition for the word, thus making it impossible to exchange ideas. A simplistic example might be the use of the word 'bad' in slang. In some circles 'bad' means good. And if someone from one of those circles were talking to someone who believes that the word 'bad' means bad, there would be a total lack of communication even if they basically agreed on the worth of whatever was being described. Thus, I believe that part of the disagreement arises from talking about different things. If one person equates socialism with the former Soviet Union and another understands it as basic societal safeguards for citizens, they are not talking about the same thing and argument is useless for both sides. But that is not all of it.

Some people seem to equate democracy with capitalism. There is nothing at all in our constitution that links the two concepts. According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary capitalism is "an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market." It is an economic system not a political system. And, given the instability it has given to so many 'regular' people, I can't help but wonder why many folks hold onto it with such religious fervor. It doesn't seem to offer much for those outside of the ownership and investment groups. And I believe that we'll wait a very long time if we are waiting for the tender mercies of the corporations to help us out.

From what I can tell, much of the hysteria has arisen over the possibility of health care for everyone in this country. This truly confuses me. I have a very difficult time imagining what the downside of that might be. We currently have somewhere around 47 million people without any health care at all. This is not because we have 47 million lazy and good-for-nothing fellow citizens. For most of them it is because insurance and medical treatments are far too expensive in this country. A study by Harvard University found that 50% of all bankruptcies in this country are directly due to medical expenses even among people with some level of insurance coverage. Having the prices of services (and everything else) being determined by a free market, as with strict capitalism, results in hardship and unnecessary suffering, which eventually will undermine everyone's well-being.

So what would be a possible downside? Less money for the for-profit health care corporations? Somehow that doesn't seem too awful compared to a family who must go without basic preventative medicine simply because they can't afford it. Smaller profits for individual doctors? I don't know that that is terrible either given that my personal physician says she would welcome a universal system with open arms. Having patients who can not afford vital treatments because of a lack of coverage seems much worse to her. An increase in personal income taxes? Perhaps, but given that approximately 54% of our government expenditures are going towards military spending, might it not be better to divert a small portion of that for the health care of our citizens?

Obviously, I can't answer that for everyone and not everyone is interested in exploring it very deeply. As one of those who can't afford to get sick, I know that I would prefer that it work that way.

"The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer." -- Jawaharlal Nehru.


Knitman said...

The American paranoia of 'socialism', which they don't even seem to understand, results in the most appalling cruelty and degradation of it's own citizens. Only those who can afford healthcare and those who profit from it would be against healthcare for all, no matter what, not subject to ability to pay. I know if I were in the USA I would be poor and probably have to do without some of my drugs.

yarnpiggy said...

As a Canadian, I've never been able to grasp the passionate opposition to socialized medicine that many Americans make. I'm afraid simple ignorance is at the heart of it in most -- not all, I'm sure -- cases. Many Americans I've spoken to seem to think we are living in the 19th century when it comes to our standards of care.

A few years ago, while visiting family in Ohio, I developed a severe ear infection (I'm prone to them, and I knew this one was a doozy) at the end of my stay. I went to the ER of the local hospital, to obtain a letter saying I shouldn't fly (so I wouldn't be charged a whopping change fee for my ticket), and some drugs.

While I certainly did not expect to be taken ahead of any serious emergencies, I did not expect to wait three hours to see a doctor (there were only a small handful of people in the ER, and as far as I could see, no serious traumas or anything came in during my wait). I've never waited that long in a Canadian hospital (admittedly -- and fortunately -- my experience in the ER is rather limited, however, so I'm not the best example.)

I did receive inspections from no less than two nurses and a physician's assistant before the actual doctor came in. He looked at my chart, and then said to me:

"Ah, you're from Canada. How does it feel to be in a real hospital?"

Had I not been feeling so terrible (it really was a horrible infection, and actually made me sick to my stomach), I would have given him the scathing answer he deserved -- that my local suburban hospital was about five times the size of this one, etc. But I just sat there. I couldn't really believe someone so well educated could be so ignorant. (Which just proves the point that one can be ignorant and intelligent at the same time...ignorance does not equal stupidity...)

Sorry for the rambling answer. :-)

Knitman said...

Well, it was a good answer, YarnPiggy. I am horrified that a private hospital treated you like this! Now you will have long waits, sometimes here, too, but generally not.

The basic error with private medicine (and drugs) is that they are for PROFIT and therefore MAKING MONEY is the priority. People ought to be the priority and we never will be whilst profit, and here in the UK 'targets' are the priority. No health car er system will ever work until people are the priority.
Meritocracies are seriously flawed and capitalism and meritocracy go hand in hand hence people die thru from poverty. Communism/Socialisms doesn't work either. There has to be another alternative? Or are we doomed because there will always be the self centred 'I'm all right , Jack' mentality with us.

Nan said...

Good points, both of you.
I try to remain hopeful that things can be turned around. But as long as corporations are in the driver's seat, that hope is tenuous at best.