Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The case for universal health care in the United States

Numerous outlets are reporting big news about glyphosphate, Monsanto's flagship herbicide: glyphosphate is a probable carcinogen according to the World Health Organization. Glyphosphate has been detected everywhere - in our water, in our water and in our soil. Genetically modified crops like soybeans and corn are touted as resistant to the herbicide and the claim upon their introduction into the market, with little oversight or public input, is that herbicide use would decrease. The reality is that herbicide used has increase by 500 million pounds annually since 1996 as a result of the use of these crops.

There is also a link between glyphosphate and autism. Researchers analyzed the records over 20 years and found a strong correlation between the prevalence of autism and the use of glyphosphate. There are, unfortunately, no big companies willing to step up and take responsibility for these trends. Not even Monsanto.

The neoliberal policies of the conservative right have consistently and successfully lobbied against higher tax rates for corporations in general. But the biggest companies have financed the campaigns of the most ardent supporters of more taxes for the common man and tax breaks for the biggest polluters. Worse, in agriculture, conventional crops get all the subsidies, while organic crops go without. Pretty cool, huh?

In this context, universal health care as a right makes sense. Since 99% of Americans have near zero influence on public policy, we can be almost sure that universal health care will not be a part of our lives in my lifetime. But the new generation of kids may not be so kind to the current generation of the "For the last time, I'm not a scientist!" conservative politician.

Given all the pollution that is around us, universal health care makes sense. From cars, to household cleaners, to fracking, coal ash spills, to GMOs, if corporations won't pay for the costs through regulation, they can pay for it through taxation. We currently spend 18% of GDP on health care, twice as much as every other industrialized country in the world. Of course, that is trending down as a result of Obamacare. The Congressional Budget has projected that the cost of Obamacare and overall spending on health care will continue to see a slowdown of increases over the next 10 years.

Universal health care financed by an employment, corporate or business tax means that average people can force corporations to pay for the costs of pollution. We could assess the tax based on the amount of pollution emitted by the entity, but that gets complicated in a hurry. Assessing a flat tax based on the number of employees and gross income could be enough to cover the costs. I'm sure there are economists, you know, scientists, who can figure this out. 

Creating a single payer system that pays all the bills and collects all the records would make it easier to spot trends associated with pollution and illness. The single payer plan would create an entity powerful enough to recover costs associated with say, GMOs and/or glyphosphate use. Such an entity could have the legal power needed to bankrupt or dissolve a corporation that is not willing to pay up when charged with massive pollution and when a demand is made to pay for the health care costs associated with the damage done.

Perhaps this is the real reason why single payer plans are so opposed by the right. It's not the cost. It's the data collection. If a single agency collected enough data to show a correlation between the costs of health care and the use of a particular herbicide, pesticide or of a particular pollutant, why, that might be actionable! Having thousands of health insurance companies out there provides a convenient shroud to make it harder to find the data needed to make the association between pollutant and the cost of a health issue.

Nearly every industrialized country in the world offers universal health care, and in most countries, it's a hit. Here's a map to get an idea of who's in and who's not. There is no reason why it cannot work here. 

Oh, wait. We do have a single payer plan. It's called Medicare, and it is one of the biggest controls on health care costs that we know of outside of Obamacare. Republicans want to privatize it out of existence. Democrats want to expand it to everyone. Which solution do you prefer? The one that will almost certain exacerbate inequality and shorten the lives of the middle class? Or the one that will give the middle class some breathing room and opportunity to grow?
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