September 25, 2008

Universal Care

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

If you’ve paid attention to the major party conventions over the past few weeks, you know that healthcare is among the leading topics of conversation.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, given as most Americans rank it among the four most important problems facing our country.  The surprise is that Republicans—at both the state and federal levels—are so nonchalant about the need for major changes in our healthcare system.

Here’s the situation: Right now, half a million Wisconsinites are uninsured, even though healthcare spending this year is projected to exceed $42 billion.  Costs are rising faster than wages, meaning fewer and fewer citizens will be able to afford care in the future.

Now there are a number of solutions out there, but all of them tend to fall into either of two camps.  The first camp, endorsed by most Republicans, is to privatize everything.  It’s the camp for those who say, “Hey, the only thing wrong with our system is that we extend help to too many people.  If we just leave everybody to fend for themselves the market will sort things out.”

But, of course, the market hasn’t sorted things out.  In fact, it’s made things worse for many working families today.  That’s because, oftentimes, healthy people don’t buy insurance, so prices are much higher than they otherwise would be.  And when healthy people do enroll in a plan, it’s usually the most bare-bones one available, meaning that nothing is done to depress the cost of the more comprehensive plans that many people need.

Market-based healthcare policies also increase administrative costs.  Every day, insurance companies spend millions of dollars on employees whose only job is finding loopholes so that the insurance companies won’t have to pay for certain medical procedures.  Think about it: Insurance companies have a huge financial incentive to cover as few procedures as possible.  That’s just wrong!

There’s a better way: Universal coverage.  A universal system would cover everybody, reduce administrative costs, and eliminate the hassle of fighting with insurance companies over what is and isn’t covered.  People wouldn’t have to choose between visiting the doctor and paying the mortgage.  And employers wouldn’t have to spend more and more of their money on insuring their employees.

Beyond the many compelling economic arguments, though, there’s ultimately a moral one: America and, especially, Wisconsin have long traditions of looking out for those in need.  During our toughest times, as a nation and as a state, there’s always been this fundamental belief that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper; that we are willing to help our neighbors when they’re down.  Because, tomorrow, that might be us, or it might be our children.  The ability to see ourselves in each other has always been our greatest strength.  When it comes to healthcare, that’s something we can’t afford to forget.