A major problem in this country is that we continue to view and treat health care as a commodity, rather than as a social right (akin to, for example, education). Government alone is the appropriate body to ensure a social right. Private enterprise, such as insurance companies, driven by a profit motive, is not.

Only the government can mandate the right of universal health care. Any of the proposed systems that advocate providing tax credits or other economic assists as a primary means of increasing access to health care, side-step the reality that many persons, due to pre-existing health conditions as well as economic circumstances, will still be denied access to health coverage.

People object to the idea of government involvement on the grounds that it will reduce “choice” in medical care. It is an illusion, which only the well off can maintain, that we have choice in health care now. For millions (not thousands) of Americans, there is no choice because they lack health insurance. For anyone fortunate to have health insurance, there are many, many restrictions on choice, these imposed by insurance companies. (Personally, I have worked as a health care provider for 30 years and have always had to deal with insurance companies dictating or restricting health care choices I want to make on behalf of my patients.)

By contrast, there are many outstanding examples of universal, government-mandated health care systems in other countries, where the majority of individuals are satisfied with the choices available to them. What they most value is that everyone has access to health care. It is also worth pointing out that a government-mandated universal health care system does not require that all private choice go away. Just as in education, where all are guaranteed access to education, there exist many private options for the more privileged.

Somehow, in this country “socialized medicine” has gotten a very bad name. It is one thing to “socialize” a commodity, and I, like most Americans, when it comes to manufacturing and marketing commodities, am a believer in the free enterprise system. But if we are talking about “socializing” something that should be viewed as a right, available in an equitable way to all citizens, then, I believe, we want the government’s involvement. That’s what governments are there to do.

Critics talk of increased taxation in a government-sponsored health care system, and, of course this is true. We would all pay more taxes to fund it, hopefully by a formula tied to means. The trade-off is that all of us would no longer be paying large health care premiums, large out-of-pocket medical expenses, and everyone would be getting health care, including much neglected preventive care-and health insurance companies would no longer be showing gigantic profits. People would be able to move from employment to employment and to unemployment, and to make other life decisions free of the worry of losing or not gaining health insurance.

Private companies would no longer be burdened with the economic yoke of providing health care and could focus on their primary missions more efficiently. The free enterprise system would actually get a boost because many individual entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to find and afford health insurance.

I fail to see why so many, including our president, so vehemently support “private enterprise” in health care, when we are talking about a social right, not a commodity. Yes, from a purely profit perspective, private health care (aka health insurance) systems can operate very efficiently, but that efficiency is achieved by catering to the healthiest and to persons of means, while ignoring the poor, the sick, children, and the unemployed, part-time employed, and the self-employed.

I believe that we as a country have the means to do so much better, and it fills me with shame that we do not have the will to do so.

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