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Five Ways Health Care Increases Freedom
Living rather than dying, having real rather than fake choices, saving money...
In my last two posts about health and freedom, I promised a list of ten ways that universal access to health care would make Americans freer as individuals. In the first, I argued that health care is a human right. In the second, I used examples from around the world to suggest that health and freedom work together. In this one, I will start the list of ten ways in which universal access to health care would make us freer citizens and people.
1. Life. If you have access to health care, you are less likely to die. Americans die younger than citizens of more than twenty European countries, not to mention, in our own hemisphere, Costa Ricans and Chileans. Dying is not a form of liberation. Dying from preventable causes is not a demonstration of freedom. It is evidence that we are living under unnecessary oppression. If all Americans had access to insurance, as for example through Medicare for all, fewer of us would die unnecessarily.
2. Birth. If you read in the newspaper of a government decree saying that thousands of newborns were to be killed, you would find that a shocking example of tyranny. But that is the system which we take for granted. A reasonable system of universal insurance would be one in which women would not be hustled in and out of hospitals around childbirth, as they are now. It would cover prenatal and postnatal care, where we do poorly. American women, especially African-American women, have to worry far too much about maternal and infant mortality. This is a shadow haunting their lives, and it could be lifted. American women and their babies die far too often in childbirth. Infant mortality here is worse than in about forty countries.
Have you ever watched a birth? Have you ever watched a birth where mother and child were at risk of dying? Can you think of anything that would make it right to make it more likely that mother and baby would die? Now, think about this. Mothers and babies die in America all the time for no reason at all. They die all the time because it is cheaper to admit them to hospitals too late, and cheaper to expel them from maternity wards too early. A system where babies and mothers die for profit is one that must be changed. That death is tyrannical insofar as it is avoidable, and much of it is.
3. Choices. Freedom is about having choices. Some choices are very important. For example, the choice as to whether to go to a doctor or to the hospital is very important. That should be a choice made on its merits. If you feel sick, or if you have a worry, then you should go. If you have access to health care, you have this freedom of choice. When you lack it, you are much less free. In the United States, nearly half of the population hesitates to seek care for financial reasons. More than thirty million adults have no insurance at all. Recently I had surgery, and experienced some symptoms afterwards. I went to a hospital in the US and was charged more than $7000 for a few scans. In Europe, I had the same problem, and had the same scans. I paid nothing. Most Americans wouldn't be able to pay the $7000 for the scans. This is not about money. It is about the commercialization of what should not be commercialized, namely our bodies. It is a form of oppression. People who cannot afford care are being oppressed and should all be liberated.
4. Money. If you do not have enough money, commercial medicine makes you less free by denying you care. If you do have enough money, commercial medicine makes you less free by taking it away. Health care costs are far, far higher in the United States than in comparable countries, even though our outcomes are considerably worse. That is because, in commercial medicine, the end goal is not health but profit. In a market logic, the point is not to keep you alive, but to have you the right kind of sick for the right period of time. In commercial medicine, every possible part of the process is monetized, which leads to waste, suffering, and death. We do not need more money in our health system. We need less money in our health system, and more of it in our pockets.
5. Relief from pain. Pain and addiction make us less free. Much of the pain that Americans suffer is tractable through therapy, physical therapy, or other treatments that are not highly valued in commercial medicine because they take time. It is much quicker and easier to treat people with pills, for example with opioids. The result is a different kind of pain, and a vast epidemic of addiction. Countries with universal health care do not have the kinds of problems with opioids that we do.
The list of ways health care and freedom work together continues in the next post.