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    Letters to the Editors

    Universal care makes economic sense


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 29, 2002

    Re: Health care not a right, letter, Dec. 22.

    It is sad that the letter writer has chosen to label the health care debate in such blatantly partisan terms, and in so doing has exposed numerous flaws in his logic. Those of us who advocate a single-payer, universal system for health care are no more socialistic than insurance companies who "socialize" risks by having a broad pool of insured customers paying into a system from which a much smaller number of people will be able to draw. Let's start with a few basic premises.

    One, governments in the modern era subsidize necessary activities because doing so is more socially and economically beneficial than not doing so. The benefits outweigh the associated costs. In most Western societies, health care is a part of that subsidization process. Of modern Western democracies, there are only three countries that do not have universal health care: Israel, South Africa and the United States.

    Most European nations spend less than 10 percent of their respective gross domestic products on health care, and cover all their citizens with basic, high-quality care. The United States spends more than 16 percent of its GDP on health care and fails to cover almost 20 percent of its citizens. In essence, we are paying for a system we don't have.

    Furthermore, single-payer systems avoid the bureaucracy that having hundreds of competing insurance carriers in the United States necessarily creates. All these companies have their own policies, their own paperwork and their own procedures, excluding various coverages. Under our current system, this is a legitimate and legal practice by the industry. But single-payer systems avoid these problems and nearly pay for themselves on the reduced administrative costs alone.

    Two, rights understandably increase as societies mature. I don't think our 18th century founders (or even Trent Lott) would have considered Social Security a right as we do today. But they also did not think African slaves were deserving of emancipation or complete civil and human rights, or that women or non-property-owning citizens had the right to vote as we do today. Some of us evolved.

    Three, health care is not a typical "commodity" as some would have us believe. When the letter writer mentions purchasing clothing and cars, he fails to recognize that when one purchases said items, one is usually not discriminated against on the basis of prior health conditions or illness. Also, being unable to purchase a car or a new jacket does not shift costs to other consumers. In fact, it reduces demand and lowers the costs. But in health care it usually leads to long-term cost increases that affect other consumers. The greater the number of uninsured, the greater the cost shifting to those who have insurance.

    Four, using the Constitution's failure to enumerate particular rights as justification for injustice not only ignores the 9th and 10th amendments, but it is also as tired a set of ideas as those espoused by Trent Lott and other strict constructionists. The Constitution does not enumerate my right to brush my teeth, drive to the store or walk my dogs. I have those rights, under the 9th and 10th amendments. Finally, universal health care is vital to protecting our nation against terrorism. If there were a major outbreak of smallpox, or a chemical attack, most of us would be better protected against terrorism if before receiving a vaccine or an antidote we were not asked whether we had adequate coverage, whether we called for pre-approval before coming to the hospital, whether we could meet our deductible, or whether we had any pre-existing conditions.

    Universal health care is a right of the people, it makes economic sense, it guarantees our security, and it guarantees social and economic justice. The letter writer's assertions to the contrary are simply wrong because they fail to understand the true nature of the debate. Many of our citizens are clamoring for access to quality care. This is our country, too.
    -- Christopher McKinney, Clearwater

    Not supply and demand

    Re: Health care not a right, letter, Dec. 22.

    The letter writer states that health care is like any other product and so is not deserving of public subsidy. Not so. Under free-market capitalism, the markets work because the buyer is sovereign -- supplies of goods and services rise or fall as a function of the level of demand. Consumers must be free to walk away from any transaction by saying "no," or, at least, "not now." This is not so with medical care.

    Furthermore, with normal goods and services not all consumers are going to be buyers. You can aim your new Cadillac at one or another demographic group and succeed in catching many, maybe most, of them, but you will never persuade all of them to buy. Again, this is not so with health care. Simply being live humans makes us all consumers. Because of that, a civilized and just society should provide a minimum level of adequate emergency and preventive medical care to all its citizens.
    -- James McGill, St. Pete Beach

    Health care not an option

    Re: Health care not a right.

    Health care may be part of our free enterprise system, but the question is, should it be?

    The letter writer makes the inequitable comparison between the purchase of health care and cars or clothes. People don't choose to have a heart attack, stroke, cancer or even a toothache. They can and do choose whether or not to purchase autos and clothing. Options include expensive or bargain priced. This is not true with health care services. You need it, you pay the price. Despite what the letter writer states, it is not a flawed premise to expect that everyone will need health care at some given point in their lives.

    Our form of government rightfully allows us to receive free public schooling for 12 years so that all of us have an opportunity to get a basic education. Why then can't our nation provide all of us with tax-supported basic health care? I question why a person needs to be highly educated and/or have a high income in order to afford adequate health care coverage. Other civilized nations such as Canada, Great Britain and Australia have a universal health care system that most of their citizens gladly embrace. I believe it is only humane and caring to provide universal health care.
    -- Kay A. Paul, Indian Rocks Beach

    Health care for life

    Re: Health care not a right.

    Health care cannot be tossed into the mix of ordinary business. The writer, who likes to refer to the Constitution, says it does not enumerate health care as a valid point of regulation by Congress. But he overlooks the part that says we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we have the right to life, we have the right to expect good health care to preserve that life.

    A person suffering from serious illness has a right to good medical attention so he can live and be productive. A person critically injured in an accident has the right to the immediate best care possible so he, too, can live a productive life.

    The writer says he has "... never set foot in a doctor's office, walk-in clinic or other venue... " Sir, consider yourself very lucky, for one day you will, mark my words. And further, how do you actually know health care is like any other business if you have never dealt with it?
    -- Gene Taylor, Pinellas Park

    Lose-lose drug laws

    Re: The huge cost of harsh sentences, editorial, Dec. 22.

    Kudos for that editorial. Most Floridians have no inkling of the cost and uselessness of Florida's anti-drug laws. For example, according to Florida statute, fraudulent possession of 4 grams of Percocet brings a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for "trafficking" (selling is not required). Although a 330-milligram pill contains only 5 milligrams of Oxycodone, the weight of the entire pill is weighed to calculate the sentence, according to the statute. Thus 13 pills bring the full 25-year sentence to Florida prisons.

    Almost all arrestees are too poor to fight the system. They take a plea rather than risk conviction to a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence, and are quietly put away. But two local arrestees have the resources to fight and go to trial in February. Both involve individuals with diagnosed back injuries, whose doctors' mistakes provided these two patients with more than 13 Percocet pills, and the patients did not report this to law enforcement.

    These cases are a lose-lose for Floridians: If convicted, kiss another $1-million in criminal justice costs goodbye; if acquitted, expect Florida physicians to be more restrictive in treating chronic pain.
    -- John Chase, Palm Harbor

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