Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The drive to universal health care

I've been an enthusiast for universal health care for quite some time. I'm going to start toting up all of the benefits of a universal health care system, as well as discussing the various forms that a universal health care system here in the U.S. might take. To be fair, I'll also contrast the benefits of such a system with the benefits of the current system and the disadvantages of each system also. However, in the research that I've done, this is a clear win for the universal system.

I'm starting this because I really need to start tracking all the times that I hear items where I think, "You know, removing health care expenses from the situation would completely change that equation." As a "for example," the West Contra Costa country school district is looking at changing the benefit structure for teachers as they retire, a change necessitated entirely by the health care costs being incurred as teachers retire. On the one hand, it's the district's obligation to live up to the promises they've made to people who've been working in some of the neediest schools in the nation for quite paltry wages in one of the most expensive areas in the world. What kind of choice is it to ask someone (as was described on NPR this morning) to make the decision between retiring now and taking a reduced pension or retiring with a full pension but receiving reduced health benefits? At the same time, the district is saddled with rocketing health care costs and serious revenue problems. The officials there are faced with their own terrible choice between funding their obligations to retired teachers and cutting school programs for children that already face cuts in just about every area of support they receive.

Now, remove the burden of providing health care from the school system. Yes, the burden would still fall somewhere, but it wouldn't be something unique to the school district. Based on the experience of other industrialized nations and some of the unique factors that make health care so expensive in this country (both of which I'll discuss more later), costs would go down for insuring these retirees, while the costs would also be distributed in a number of different manners, removing the acute pressure on particular providers.

This goes beyond just school districts, of course, and can be seen in the problems faced in pension programs for the legacy airlines (the actual pension pay is an issue there, but the cost of funding health care also factors in majorly), workers compensation programs (remove the need to assign liability for a health claim and workers comp just... goes away...), and more.

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