Term Limits

Walter Reed Hospital, 1930s‘Universal Health Care’ Is None of the Above

The Democrat presidential candidates seem to be for it. Not Senator McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate. Republicans, some Democrats like to suggest, are uninterested in children’s health. One critic mistakenly said that Republicans are disinterested in children’s health. Disinterested means “unbiased,” as in, “To sort this thing out we need a mediator—a disinterested third party.”

What, exactly, is “universal health care”?

Universal is problematic. The United States is not the universe. It’s not even the center of the universe. But we’ll let that one go for now.

When senators Clinton and Obama talk about universal health care, they really mean universal health insurance. According to the New York Times election guide,

Senator Clinton “[would] require everyone to get health insurance, subsidized by employers and the government; pay for it by rolling back tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 and savings in the existing system.”

Senator Obama “[would] require that all children have health insurance; pay for it by rolling back President Bush’s tax cuts for households earning over $250,000; aims for universal coverage.”

Senator McCain “[is] for free-market, consumer-based system; has pledged affordable health care for every American without a mandate; says universal health care is possible without a tax increase.”

Universal health care is available today

Apart from Medicaid, there are thousands of free or sliding-scale clinics in the U.S. Some are operated by religious and other nonprofit organizations, others by  municipalities, counties, states, and, of course, the Veterans’ Administration. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration subsidizes more than a thousand nonprofit health-care facilities for the poor and the uninsured.

I have gone to the same HRSA-subsidized clinic for five years, first when I was broke and uninsured, and then when I had a well-paying job with health insurance. A pharmacy attached to the clinic gives huge discounts on prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but only to the uninsured. With insurance, I paid about twice as much for each doctor visit and prescription.

Universal coverage isn’t the answer

America’s “health-care crisis” has a lot less to do with access than it does with the managed-care “delivery” model. Strictly speaking, the term managed care describes any health-care system that, by placing intermediaries between providers and patients, controls services and costs. At the same time, Medicare and private insurance companies impose tremendous burdens on hospitals and clinics in the form of convoluted reporting and coding requirements. One estimate of the annual cost of coding errors, accidental or deliberate, is just under $200 billion.

I’m not an expert on health care or public policy, but I do know a thing or two about manipulating language in order to mislead. What’s more, I can add. Once upon a time, when patients paid their own medical bills, the doctors got their money. Now patients are paying insurance companies, and the doctors are still getting their money. Do the math.

Images: TOP, Walter Reed Hospital postcard, 1930s. LEFT, doctor making a house call.

Got a grammar question? Leave a comment.

Learn more about language in Write Better Right Now, by Mary Campbell, available at LifeIsPoetry.net.

 

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