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“Free-market health care” and national defense

February 17, 2008

Sara continues her series debunking common lies about nationalized health care, bringing up an angle that had not occurred to me:

Getting everyone insured is, unequivocally, a clear matter of national security.

Our every-man-for-himself attitude toward health care is a security threat on a par with unsecured ports. In Canada, people go see the doctor if they’re sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country’s health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.

In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease—and thus at greater risk of death themselves—every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.

Worse: America’s underfunded public health system might have taken several days to piece together the whole picture of an epidemic; and perhaps another week or two might have passed before the E. Coli conservatives in charge (having thrown out the science-based management plans thoughtfully developed by the bureaucracy) cooked up some kind of half-assed ideology-driven decision about how to proceed. (It would, of course, involve spectacular amounts of lying to the public.) By that point, tens of millions could have been infected, leading to a death toll that would make 9/11 and Katrina look like minor statistical blips.

Think about superbugs and the ongoing waves of immunological imports from the world’s swamps and jungles. Think about terrorists with bioweapons. And then think again about the undeniable fact that every single underinsured American is a gaping hole in the safety net that protects us all from a catastrophic epidemic.

Epidemics grow by exponential leaps and bounds; catching them earlier is much, better.  Think of putting out a fire in a wastebasket vs. arriving when the whole building is in flames.

There’s a lot more about competitiveness, “rationed care” “efficiency” and other canards used to keep Americans in the dark about their health care. Short answer, we’re paying too much, getting too little, and congratulating ourselves on the results.  (Tip ‘o the hat to Mike The Mad Biologist)

Notes and links:

  1. Ted
    February 17, 2008 at 14:24 | #1

    …bringing up an angle that had not occurred to me…

    I suspect that’s because “national defense” carries a lot of dissonance baggage.

    For many people, the term has become ambiguous, and expenditures on “national defense” are amorphous because there is no clear correlation between expenditures, policy and defense. We use “defense” as an geopolitical offensive tool – to get our way with others, to prop up governments elsewhere, to secure oil supplies and favorable business conditions, to make foreign arm sales—public and not so public—and so on.

    I get somewhat annoyed at bloggers (not you) that get wrapped up in “intellectual honesty” but continue to use the term “national defense” to represent what is obviously “the mechanism that insures American interests are carried out”.

    I could even see my way to creating a new umbrella organization—The US Department of Self-Interest. It would be more honest, and I could justify that it may be worth an annual throwing into a black hole of $650B-$700B, but I suspect that people around the world would get the willies if we were to actually call it what it was.

    So instead, we have rank confusion at home, like yours where we think that “national defense” actually means defending something like local people from the harm of external bogeymen.

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