When I talk health care, some commenters complain that paying for health care through the government is really theft, forcing them to pay for other people's health problems and getting nothing in return.
So what do you get from universal health coverage? How about not dead from swine flu?
The Marketplace Morning Report just ran a commentary from Robert Reich that provoked this realization. The Berkeley prof and former Labor Secretary was simply complaining that the folks who view a possible swine flu pandemic as an economic problem are missing the point, that taking care of people always trumps concern over this abstract thing called "the economy." We simply cannot afford to have 44 million of our fellow Americans uninsured and millions more just one diagnosis or layoff away from losing their coverage, says Reich.
That triggered the connection in my head: right now we have millions of people who won't go to see a doctor because they can't afford it. Even a lot of folks with insurance are carrying high deductibles and thus are more likely to delay or skip doctor visits.
So suppose a thousand uninsured/underinsured people around the country feel under the weather. Without universal coverage, there are that many more of those folks who will look at their thin wallets and say, "Ah, it's just stress or something I ate. I'll be fine." They wait a day, or two, or three, until they're so under the weather they decide they can't wait any longer.
And during that wait, their swine flu has spread to that many more people and created that much bigger of a public health problem. Public health problem, as in impacting the entire public, every taxpayer.
I suggest that universal health coverage and the increased preventive care it would bring could be a first line of defense against pandemics. There will still be outbreaks. There will still be cranky people like me who don't like to go to the doctor even my taxes have already paid for the visit. But a health system where anyone, rich or poor, can walk into a hospital for a check-up and a prescription without incurring a sudden, unexpected expense would strengthen our ability to fight swine flu and other public health crises.
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