THE BLOG
07/14/2008 11:37 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Not Socialized Medicine?

Like the Bogey Man, those two words, socialized medicine, are continually trotted out to frighten Americans, who want health care but are afraid of turning into communists if they don't bankrupt themselves to get it. In case you have forgotten in all the frenetic hype and hyperbole over the past several decades on the subject, so-called socialized medicine --at its core -- is another form insurance, a plan to spread costs to the many so that the unlucky few faced with a crippling illness do not have to cripple their family finances in the process. The primary difference is that "socialized medicine" won't pay multimillion dollar salaries to insurance company CEOs, agents, advertising execs, and Wall Street-size sums to shareholders before the first dime is spent on actual caring for the health of anyone.

Of course, those pocketing all that loot don't want to lose it, which is why they try to paralyze your thought processes to prevent you from enacting even the simplest safety net against catastrophic illness. They want to keep the burden shifted to those who were not born to rich parents and those who sadly lost the disease/accident lottery.

Their one argument of merit attacking the concept is the bugaboo that government is inefficient, as if the megalithic HMOs weren't.

And, since they don't have sufficient arguments on the actual respective merits, they attempt to divert attention by connotatively loading the term "socialized medicine." Unfortunately, the smear tactics have worked, making us forget the "Golden Rule" we learned in Sunday School about doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Instead, they glorify that only Gold Rules when it comes to access to medical care.

What is fascinating about the opponents' smoke and mirrors camouflaging their lack of substance is that this country is already heavily "socialized" in much of what it does and it has successfully been that way for many years. While the Socialist Party elected almost no one since its creation back in the early 1900s, most of their ideas were ultimately incorporated into law by Republican as well as Democratic administrations.

For instance, we have "socialized' schooling. It couldn't be called anything else if you use the same voodoo linguistics favored by opponents of socialized medicine. Think about it. We have universal free education for everyone through high school regardless of ability or parentage. It is paid for by everyone out of tax dollars. That's how you were educated. That is how everyone except the rich are still being educated. Is there anyone out there who thinks we should leave children behind merely because they can't afford to go to private school?

We have had "socialized" fire and crime prevention since the 1800s. The fire department doesn't go only to the biggest mansions anymore. It goes to what is on fire regardless of how wealthy the owner is. No one except maybe curmudgeons think we should go back to the bad old days when private fire departments protected only the houses of those who paid for the privilege.

We have always had "socialized' military and national security. The Coast Guard does not check your Dun and Bradstreet rating before steaming out in the storm when the SOS is received. In fact, almost all rescue operations are socialized ones. If your child is lost, everyone shows up to search and it doesn't have to be just someone like Paris Hilton missing.

"Socialized" highways and bridges? Absolutely. Whether a beat up pickup truck or a Rolls Royce, the drivers of those cars are charged exactly the same for building our highway infrastructure, even on toll bridges. There is "socialized" water delivery and sewage removal. There is "socialized" airport construction and air traffic control. There is "socialized" building and food inspection to keep us safe whether it is caviar or chitlins being scrutinized for salmonella. Does anyone seriously suggest it should be otherwise in this day and age?

"Socialized" air waves for radio and tv? Of course. There are some channels that are only available by paying extra, but the core networks are still free to both Bill Gates and Joe Six Pack. The air waves are actually owned by the public despite some sell off going on by a Republican Administration wanting to reward its rich campaign contributors who want the airwaves and internet for themselves.

Wanna bet whether the President wants to give up his "socialized" Secret Service protection? He is rich enough to afford his own Pinkerton guards, but for all his rhetoric about pigs dining at the public trough, he certainly wants to keep dining at the "trough" himself at every opportunity. He also wants "socialized" big oil to the extent that he wants to spend public money to subsidize oil production even though with their monstrously obscene profits these days they could surely pay for it 100% themselves. Interestingly, the "socialized" tax credits for alternative energy sources like wind power die at the end of the year, but not those for the petroleum power related ventures. Do you suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that Bush and Cheney came from petroleum politics?

And, have you forgotten Social Security, one of the most successful programs of all time in just about every criteria you can name, notwithstanding the hysteria the Republicans try to create? But, that is a much longer topic that needs to be addressed at a different time. Suffice to say Franklin Roosevelt's experiment is still useful and better than any of the other alternatives.

We even have a certain amount of "socialized" medicine already. Emergency rooms don't discriminate depending on whether the victim is wearing a cummerbund or not. Similarly, the universal access of the ADA looks to whether there is a disability rather than the social status of the beneficiaries when enforcing such laws. All they need to be is disabled.

It is legitimate to want to insure that in competencies, inefficiencies and potential corruption be rooted out whenever genuine instances of such abuses of any system are discovered. But, if that were the sole test for whether "socialized medicine;" i.e., health care for all, should be in a government agency rather than the mishmash of profiteering private companies, then President Bush should have been fired long ago and the Homeland Security Department would not exist. Does the acronym FEMA and the city of New Orleans come to mind?

Come to think of it, do the private companies of Wall Street, which were supposed to be so brilliant and efficient that they didn't even need regulation, really strike you as all that incompetent-free now that the latest housing and lending fiascos have been revealed? It looks like the conservatives are screaming at the top of their lungs that we must instantly institute "socialized banking" for the bank owners and investors. The current attempts to reward the incompetents responsible for our snowballing financial crisis seems to be little other than a socialized bailout using taxpayer funds and guarantees which means still more taxpayer funds thrown away if something goes wrong.

Sure we need to put in place safeguards against waste and losses in any creation of a socialized medicine process. But, basically, let's put socialized medicine in place, perhaps as part of the Social Security Administration, and just make sure it is under close oversight unlike the secrecy allowed in HMOs and health insurance corporations.

Remember too, cutting out multimillion dollar insurance company CEO salaries, cutting out the massive profit they suck out of revenue, cutting out the massive commissions only applicable when it is a private program, cutting out the expensive office space demanded by private company egos, etc. pays for a mighty big amount of bureaucratic inefficiency, even assuming it exists and that the huge monolithic insurance companies never ever suffer from the same human weaknesses. The cost/benefit analysis seems to be clearly in favor of going the "socialized medicine" route.

At the very least, we ought to stop giving automatic credence to everything touted by those currently profiting, and massively so, from their feeding off our health care needs. We ought to suspect their words might be tainted by a basic conflict of interest. In fact, if you stop to think about it, in one sense most of those execs and other non-doctors profiting from health care might arguably be described as the societal equivalent of vultures. They do, after all, make their living off the pain, suffering and death of others. Of course, that analogy can't be pushed too far since it also applies to lawyers, dentists, accountants and other licensed professionals. Nevertheless, due to that strong self interest inherent in their positions, their prescription calling for leaving our health care "system" as is ought to be consumed with the proverbial grain of salt. And, whatever "facts" opponents of change supply should be closely scrutinized, especially those about how socialized medicine in foreign countries allegedly never works. At the moment, it is hard to believe anything could be more broken than what we have. The countries with socialized medicine look healthy in comparison by almost any measure. In any event, we certainly should stop making assumptions and stop listening to knee jerk type responses anytime the subject is broached. Let's get the real facts, ones not connotatively loaded or biased.

Besides, there are also two new reasons to finally reconsider imposing "socialized medicine." There might be new allies now. Doctors originally bought into the theories promoted by opponents of the concept that we can't allow "socialized medicine" because the docs thought it would restrict their incomes. Over time though, a substantial percentage of young doctors have been relegated to being just slaves to the HMOs, stripped of their independence on just about everything including what is best for their patients. Ironic. As a result, they might reconsider and join the growing bandwagon to insure money is finally available to provide health care. If nothing else, it is a way to insure they themselves will have jobs.

Perhaps even more important, even if you want to ignore the critical moral and ethical justifications for "socialized medicine," is that it might very well make solid economic and competitive sense above and beyond the savings possible once it is implemented. For instance, foreign manufacturers are kicking our rears because their countries have socialized medicine and we don't. Our companies, at least the ones interested in keeping workers, pay for the health insurance costs of employees. That is a cost which must be added to the goods being sold. Foreign companies therefore automatically get a competitive price advantage because they don't have to fund the health insurance. Their governments do. Let's put our nation's companies, all of them, on a level playing field, not only with each other, but the entire world. It might help reverse our horrendous trade deficit and the new revenue flowing this way help pay for the health care we need.

On top of that, data suggests it would be less expensive in the long run because right now, Americans who cannot afford health insurance tend to wait until a disease has gone so far that only the dramatically more expensive emergency room care is left rather than preventive medicine. It is usually cheaper and usually more effective to try and prevent disease than cure them. It also means that when the inevitable calamity finally does come, the individual who delayed treatment is out of work longer, thereby earning less wages, paying fewer taxes, probably contributing to the mortgage and housing industry crisis, and subjecting his or her family to danger as well.

So, for every reason (except the fictitious ones still being made up by opponents), let's remember both our Sunday School and economics lessons. Let's have a reasoned debate on the real facts and the merits, a debate lead by adults, not demagogues. Whatever we do, let's not be scared stupid the next time someone uses the words "socialized medicine."