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Sahil Kapur Headshot

America's Self-Defeating Attitude on Health Care Reform

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With skyrocketing costs and 47 million Americans uninsured, it's obvious that health care has become a serious domestic crisis. President Obama made it a centerpiece of his campaign and has since moved to amend the moldering system. But before reform legislation can pass, Americans must realize what the biggest historical obstacle to universal health care has been: themselves.

There are two main types of universal health care opponents: a) special interests pursuing their own agendas and b) those who reject government activism on principle. The former will forever fight to preserve their power over the system, largely at the expense of the people. The latter ought to know that by encouraging their leaders to sit idly by, they're effectively digging their own graves.

A sea of Americans view government as innately flawed and incapable of improving their conditions. Many of these individuals, instead of voting for candidates interested in ameliorating their health care woes, elect those who believe government should stay out of their lives. And so the tide persists as a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy.

The AMA, insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry have long battled national health care because it would weaken their stranglehold over the populace. On numerous occasions they've spent extraordinary sums of money to engulf attempts at reform -- be it during the progressive era in the early 1900s, Truman in the 1940s or Clinton-care in the 1990s. (They even fought Medicare and Medicaid tooth and nail in the 1960s.) But the alarming reality is that these monsters wield much of their power from the very people they consistently swindle and cheat.

In the '90s, insurance companies sank the Clinton Health Security Act by convincing Americans that it would curtail their menu of medical options. As a result, tens of millions ended up without a menu altogether, many of whom have since plunged into bankruptcy due to unbearable medical bills. A very similar episode occurred in the '40s under Harry Truman, with the AMA leading the charge. Both times, the ensuing anti-reform wave drowned the Democratic Party for its efforts to rescue the uninsured.

The virulent obstructionism and influence wielded by these special interests is disheartening, to say the least. But let's not forget how helpless they'll be once ordinary people stop buying into their propaganda and understand that they're being conned.

Anybody who wants to solve America's health care predicament must first reject the naysayers who dogmatically vilify government and glorify the private entities that have failed us. The current system encourages exclusion of those who need medical care the most, and only government has the power to restructure these incentives.

Remember also that there is no such thing as a free lunch, which some people are apparently holding out for. Poll a group of Americans and ask them whether they'd like to have a national, government-sponsored health care program; the answer is resoundingly positive. Then ask the same group whether they're willing to pay higher taxes to make it happen, and watch the number shrink (although both figures are gradually rising over time).

The tragedy is that an effective national program, despite the costs, would be more economically sound as it would minimize the enormous out-of-pocket expenditures millions are currently subject to. It would also encourage preventive medicine, thus saving many lives by catching illnesses early. The United States, with one in six uninsured, spends far more per capita on health care than countries like France and Canada, which manage to insure all their citizens. And contrary to popular myth, quality of care is no better here.

The good news is that the winds of today are blowing against the obstructionists. There is currently a deluge of populist determination to overhaul the health care system. But the necessary reforms will only succeed when Americans get serious and see through the nonsense that has allowed this broken system to persist.

So during the upcoming debate on health care reform, don't be swept away by sneering slogans like "socialized medicine" or harebrained ads comparing universal health care to the Russian Revolution. Remember whose interests the medical establishment and their partners in Congress have at heart. Demand that your government stand up for you. If you think your leaders can help you, you may well be right. If you think they can't, you'll definitely be right.