The United States, which aspires to be the greatest country on earth, lets millions of its citizens languish without adequate health insurance or cover. The 2008 presidential campaign has highlighted, once again, how political discussions on health care don’t progress. While both John McCain and Barack Obama are claiming that they are offering revolutionary solutions to the health care crisis, neither of them has confirmed any policies that might actually constitute a revolution.
John McCain’s aim is that everyone should have access to affordable health care. He will offer every family a $5,000 tax rebate towards their health care insurance. Obama says that he will reduce healthcare costs by $2,500 per family per year, although the details of his plan are shrouded in political jargon. Both presidential candidates say they want to increase competition and lower costs in order to make the health care system more efficient, and both presidential candidates are offering a right-wing solution to the problem.
When McCain was questioned about what might be wrong with introducing state run health care he retorted: “go to Canada, go to England, and you can find out what is wrong with it.” The point that McCain seems to miss is that both of these countries provide universal health care for all of their citizens that is affordable, regardless of the taxes they’ve paid. Obama has not talked so strongly against a larger state role in health care. Instead he has talked of a “Universal Health Care Plan” and “coverage for every American” by the end of his first term, but again, his plan is unclear. Why is neither candidate offering to introduce a universal state run health care system, or more importantly, why is there no appetite for one among the mass of the American people?
As an outside observer, I think that the American people are so blinded by their own anti-establishment traditions that they cannot see the overwhelming benefits of universal health care. With such predispositions it becomes extremely difficult for any presidential candidate to suggest the increase in taxation to fund such a system. The debate on health care is indicative of the extreme right-wing bias of modern American politics. It is not just that there is not a state funded health care system, but that it would be politically disastrous for a presidential candidate to suggest that there should be one.
In the past three years, Europe has experienced something of a shift to the right, but even so, no one has suggested that state-run health care should be scrapped. If David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party, were even to suggest it, he would be met with derision. In France, the centre-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy has had great difficulty in implementing his right-wing agenda (including slashing the health care budget) because there is no popular backing for many of his policies. Even though the populations of many Western European countries have become more receptive to right-wing ideals in recent years, no one would dare to suggest the kind of health care policies that are the norm in American politics. The people have sampled universal state run health care, they like it, and they do not want it taken away from them.
A World Health Organization press release in 2000 entitled, “World health Organization Assesses the Worlds Health Systems,” found that while the U.S. spends 15.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on health care per annum (the second highest among WHO members), its performance was ranked only 37th among the member nations. The American health care system is inefficient, as are the health care systems of most liberal democracies.
The difference, however, is that American health care is inefficient because a large percentage of the system is run for profit, and not in the interests of the people that use it. Health care is an essential public service, and yet, because the system is designed to make a profit, billions of dollars are being taken from the masses to enrich the few. It is time for one of the presidential candidates to stand up and offer the American people state-run health care. And it is time for the American people to accept that the present state of the health care is untenable, and something truly radical must be done.