Listening to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debate the minutiae of health insurance mandates, it’s easy to forget that while both plans strive for universal insurance coverage, neither one will achieve universal health care (at least not as the term pertains to an inalienable right). Maybe you already knew that, but a two-part article over at the Campaign for America’s Future blog drives home why the distinction is important. Invoking our near-mythical neighbor to the north, writer Sara Robinson points out just how dangerous our current system could be. When sick people don’t go to the doctor, she says, it’s not just their health that’s in danger, but national security:
In Canada, people go see the doctor if they’re sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country’s health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.
In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease—and thus at greater risk of death themselves—every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.
Maybe this is a tack one of the candidates should consider exploring. We may not have money for socialized medicine, but we sure have a lot for defense.