The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Yes, we could have a health care system for everyone

Sep 9, 2002

Numerous politicians argue that the U.S. cannot afford to pay for prescriptions for the elderly, not to mention for a national health care system that would cover everyone. They say that it would simply cost too much.

A study just published in the professional medical journal called Health Affairs shows that this is a patent lie. The various government agencies, federal and state, already pay out more than enough to pay for a national healthcare system that would cover everyone, including with prescription drugs.

Today, government directly pays 548 billion dollars, about 45% of all the money spent on medical care in this country. This covers the health costs for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and soldiers.

But the study in Health Affairs points out that government funding for health care does not stop there. It pays for the health benefits of government employees who are nearly one fifth of the whole work force .

Then there are the indirect payments – chief among which are the various subsidies and tax breaks, including to pharmaceutical companies and to all private employers who provide medical coverage. The government subsidy for private employer medical insurance amounts, for example, to over 14 billion dollars a year.

Effectively, even though companies talk about their costs, they don't pay most, or in some cases, any of them; the government does.

If you add up all the government money that goes toward medical care, directly and indirectly, it totals 724 billion dollars, or almost 60% of all health care spending – public and private. Averaged out, that comes to $2,604 in government spending on health care for every person in this country.

Whether or not people have medical coverage, this per person average – $2604 – means that government spending on health is higher than government spending in any other country. The difference is that most industrialized countries provide health care to everyone, as opposed to the U.S., where more than 40 million people have no coverage whatsoever. And besides that, these governments also often provide drug coverage, not only for retirees, but for everyone.

In other words, in the U.S., health care coverage is much more expensive, but it doesn't go to everyone and it covers less. Why?

Obviously the few elite health care centers in this country provide the best that money can buy, if you have the money to buy it. But for most people in this country, health care is not particularly better than health care for ordinary people in most of the other richer countries.

Health care in this country is so much more expensive for two reasons. The complicated mix of all the different kinds of private insurance and public spending drains more than twice as much money as in countries with a nationalized health care system, just to pay administrative costs. In other words, there is much more red tape in this country than in countries that have nationalized health care system.

Second, almost every aspect of this system is set up to directly produce profits in the medical care industry. Much of our tax money goes to enrich a few very big drug companies, hospital corporations, and insurance and financial companies.

What gets in the way of providing decent health care coverage for everyone is not a lack of money. No, it is just the complete, no-holds-barred profit- at-all-cost system of health care that we already have.