Fortunately, should everyone come together and agree that my health care reform proposal is, in fact, the most viable (and palatable) option, both crisis and war could be averted. No thanks necessary.
However, I think many of us have ideas about solving the health care crisis that fall outside of what has become the false dilemma of our times: socialism or status quo.
This is America, damn it. We have alternatives. But these alternatives must be brought to light. Exercise your freedom to speak and think and go outside the confines of party affiliation and offer your own health care reform proposal in the comments of this post. And exercise your freedom to respectfully tear each other's proposals to shreds.
Here is my own.
Under cries of socialism, those on the right seem to prefer weeping and gnashing of teeth over surrendering any more of the health care system to the government (while ignoring the fact that a significant portion already falls under their direct influence and/or control). Meanwhile, basking in the glow of a greater sense of humanity and compassion, those left-of-center talk about universal health care as though it should be a given, the ends so thoroughly justifying the means that the means, whatever they are, should be a mere afterthought.
I keep hearing people refer to health care as a right. But this cannot be so. Rights by definition cannot be administered by the government, only protected. Yet, even in my personal life, I am keenly aware of hardworking people who face economic ruin because of either chronic or catastrophic health crises. These are not people looking to suck the federal teet, nor are they among the uninsured.
Then I look at current federal spending.
Right now, there are more than 1,800 federal subsidy programs. Collectively, these programs amount to billions upon billions of dollars, spent on everything from speciality crops and healthy marriage promotion to tattoo removal, pre-school anger management courses and turkey hunting.
Wild federal subsidies have reaped two widespread negative consequences. First, they have turned state governments and non-profit organizations into federal agencies and contractors, respectively. Second, they have turned our tax revenue into a monstrous cookie jar for the unprofitable to cram their mitts and grab what they can.
Point being, the government has been redistributing our wealth for decades. Federal assistance programs have been growing exponentially since the 1960s, and the economic stimulus added rocket fuel to the blaze.
I propose a simple compromise: stop giving money away to failing industries, wild schemes and short-sighted bleeding hearts and put that money into health care reform.
Effective health care reform should focus on two fundamental principles. One, restructuring the market of health coverage for Americans who can afford it. Two, providing a viable public option for those who cannot.
I've already written on restructuring the private insurance industry, breaking free from the employer model, empowering individuals with an open, competitive and tax-incentivized insurance market.
For those who cannot work, or those who work and cannot afford coverage to provide them the care they need (those with chronic or catastrophic illnesses or injuries) a quality public option should exist.
But this public option should by managed state by state, with federal funding doled out according to each state's unique needs. As former Senator (and mechanical engineer) John Sununu (R) so eloquently argued, efficiency requires a 'short control loop'. "Your shower faucets are a short control loop. You turn on the cold faucet, the shower is cold. You turn on the hot faucet, the shower is hot. You fiddle with both faucets, and you take a shower. Now imagine your second-story bathroom has its shower faucets in the basement. That's a long control loop. You turn the water on, climb the steps and get in the shower. It's too cold. You wrap yourself in a towel, go down two flights of stairs dripping water all over the house, go back upstairs. It's too hot. You go back downstairs, etc."
Sununu's extended shower metaphor firmly applies to federal oversight. Washington should merely empower states to manager their own public health care options. The first step in doing so would be to streamline (i.e. do away with) Medicare and Medicaid as they currently exist. This frees up an incredible amount of funding right from the start.
Next, every state, after thoroughly examining their specific health care needs and petition Washington for the necessary funding. Once funds are dispersed, states are solely responsible for managing them, subject to petitions for subsequent increases. That is, instead of senators withdrawing a quarter million federal dollars for pre-school anger management, they might withdraw the same amount to provide an underserved region of their state with two qualified primary care physicians.
Which brings me to my next point. Qualified physicians.
In 2008, the average medical student graduated with more than $150 thousand in debt. The real cost of practicing medicine, including the outrageous expense of liability insurance, is steering an increasing number of brilliant students away from the medical profession. Those who remain are less likely to pursue fields which promise lower income (primary care) or greater liability (surgical specialties). And a nation cannot survive on dermatology alone.
Thus federal funding (in cooperation with tax-incentivized contributions from the private sector) would make public medical education free for those students smart enough and hardworking enough to make the cut. Students accepted into elite private institutions would also have the ability to petition for financial assistance. This assistance would be conditional upon things like practicing in underserved populations for a certain period, or achieving board certification in a given specialty.
Upon graduating debt free, these students will then have a decision to make. Public or private sector.
Freeing up the health insurance market for individuals will maintain the private sector of medicine. Physicians will have the ability to open a private practice, much like they do now, seeing a greater number of patients than current insurance networks permit.
I won't tackle tort reform here, but suffice it to say whatever measures need to be taken to make liability insurance as affordable for physicians as health insurance should be affordable for working Americans must be taken, period.
As for the public sector of medicine, here are the basics. Think of it as the public sector of law, a better-funded, better-managed Public Defender of Health. Physicians can opt to serve in either state-run or state-contracted medical offices and hospitals. The pay scale would be similar to those found in the military or among elected officials. These physicians would earn less than their private sector colleagues, but their income would not be taxable. Those working in state-run facilities would receive liability coverage, while those under contract would receive assistance to purchase their own.
Further, private sector specialists can be offered incentives to take on 'pro bono' cases, in the event that they are "the" physician to take on a rare or particularly troublesome ailment. These incentives would also be available in the event that private physicians simply want to help take the burden off of the public facilities.
Of course these state medical facilities would be given to the same headaches as any other state-run office, and the free health care would cause long wait periods and other administrative headaches. But the quality of care and overall access would be far superior to what is available now, while preserving the rights of financially stable/successful Americans to pursue the best care their money can buy.
First and foremost, this would require Americans to reach some kind of agreement. Perhaps if we can't agree that health care is a right (I, for one, think that it isn't) we can agree that providing for the health and general wellbeing of American citizens is a compelling state interest, far more worthy of our tax dollars than the majority of things they are currently wasted on.
As George W. Bush once said, you are either with me or against me.
Bring it on.