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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    America’s free-market fanaticism

    Christina Jelly columnist
    Christina Jelly

    The day many seniors walk across the stage to graduate will inevitably coincide with the expiration of their current health care coverage. Rather than prudently purchasing insurance, many UA seniors will join the swelling ranks of young, healthy professionals opting out of the system to escape the inordinate costs.

    And why not? As privileged members of the iGeneration, we are invincible: a fountain of youth pill looms around the corner, and the only malady of immediate concern is the unfortunate, but unavoidable, Friday-morning hangover.

    Yet, it seems the days of such reckless abandon are numbered.

    Hillary Clinton unveiled her much-anticipated health care plan this past week. Clinton’s American Health Choices Plan mandates every American to purchase health coverage if they are not yet insured either by buying directly from private insurance companies or through a new program administered by Medicare, currently reserved for America’s poor.

    The increasing probability of a Democratic White House come 2008 portends a genuine prospect of universal health care for all Americans. Yet, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidates’ schemes are a far cry from the free, single-payer national health systems of Canada, the United Kingdom or Cuba. Rather, the current proposals merely expand our market-based health system to make sure all (or in Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s cases, just all children) are covered.

    Why has it been so hard for us to relinquish our market health system despite its proven inefficiency and debatable failure?

    Even with six separate efforts in the past century to introduce universal health care, the United States is still the only Western industrialized nation without some form of national health insurance.

    America’s movement
    to any sort of European-style socialized medicine is obstructed by our obsession with the free market.

    And we are worse off because of it – the current system is an indisputable mess. Health care expenditures account for 16 percent of the U.S. federal budget – about $5,300 per capita every year . That’s more than double the average $2,193 per capita the rest of the developed world spends annually on health care.

    And those nations cover almost everyone. Here in the U.S., more than 45 million people have no insurance coverage and another estimated 30 million are underinsured. Furthermore, even with our inordinate spending, Americans have higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies and are generally less healthy than our Western counterparts.

    America’s movement to any sort of European-style socialized medicine is obstructed by our obsession with the free market. Republicans and Libertarians endorse more reforms that draw upon the strength of the market principles: deregulation of the health care industry and rejection of mandates in favor of encouraging the private sector to seek innovative ways to lower costs and improve the market for health services. Such pro-market health policies are meant to, effectively and efficiently, resolve access, cost and quality problems.

    Yet, even labeling our current health care system as “”market-based”” is misleading at best. The American system is mired in government regulation and replete with state and national subsidization (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP). Is this what health care based on market principles is suppose to look like? Adam Smith must be turning in his grave at the very insinuation. Surely, the dysfunctional, bureaucratic puppet master that is U.S. health care regulation is far from the invisible hand Smith envisioned as the referee of thriving markets.

    Free market principles work beautifully when you have rational agents consuming goods that obey the laws of supply and demand. But we don’t consume health care the way we consume iPods or Japanese cars. We demand health care only when we are sick, and a rise in health care costs does not mitigate our need for it.

    Our specious “”market-based”” approach has done little to alleviate costs, increase efficiency or improve quality. Innovative strategies by the private sector to lower costs include denying sick patients coverage (sometimes retroactively) and influencing physicians to provide costlier treatments in hopes of securing a profit.

    Furthermore, as our health system relies heavily on employer coverage, it has one particularly ironic victim – market capitalism itself. The obligation for businesses to provide health insurance to their employees puts American companies at a comparable disadvantage to their foreign competitors (whose governments provide health care).

    The characteristic American fear of government intervention and heroification of private enterprise that shaped our current health care fiasco needs to be re-evaluated. Such values, although admirable in many regards, should be eschewed when it comes to health policy development.

    The rest of the industrialized world buys into the social insurance model – distributing the financial costs of health coverage over the general population equalizes the burden of illness on individuals. If all of us vigorous, healthy youth help buttress the system rather than financially checking out, the better off the health of the entire population. Let’s prove that when it comes to health, we hold equality above the divine free market.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at

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