It has become pedestrian to say it, but I will say it nonetheless: It is a moral abomination that 47 million people are without health care in the richest country in the world.
Wisconsin boasts of one of the best health care systems in the country, but even here, things are far from ideal. According to a report conducted by the Department of Health and Family Services, almost 500,000 Wisconsinites (9 percent) were without health care for all or part of 2003. Last year, more than 13,000 bankruptcies were filed due to medical bills. The situation is growing worse, with health care costs rapidly increasing and more companies threatening to drop coverage.
The obvious solution for Wisconsin is to join the rest of the industrialized world and adopt socialized medicine, either through a single-payer or — like Western Europe — a two-tier system (one public, one private). This would fulfill the hopes of the "New Deal" Democrats of the 1930s, the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Medical Association.
Socialized medical systems have empirically proven themselves better than our for-profit system: The United States has the lowest life expectancy in the industrialized world. Beyond this simple fact, the debate should be closed; human welfare is qualitatively more important than ideology or money.
Still, it is important to note that bureaucratic overhead and advertising make American health care unnecessarily expensive. According to a recent Washington Post report, the United States spends about twice as much on health care than its European counterparts.
The essential problem with American health care is that the profit motive is the fundamental impulse of the entire system. Big Pharma is, quite simply, pure evil, concealing adverse drug effects, jacking up prices, researching only the profitable and — perhaps most disturbingly — puppeteering the Food and Drug Administration all the while.
Doctors and hospitals are forced into the organism as well, receiving kickbacks for prescribing the right drugs, overlooking expensive medical problems and accepting only those with the right insurance.
Wisconsin workers should accept nothing short of a complete elimination of the private sector in their health care. Socialized medicine is cheap, fair, universal and long overdue.
With that said, it is not realistic to expect it in the near future, regardless of the fight progressives put up. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, nearly $2 out of every $3 contributed to Assembly Republicans from 1999 to 2006 have come from special interests that oppose the "Healthy Wisconsin" proposal — an initiative introduced by Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. In this context, the proposal, while hardly radical, will be difficult to get through the Assembly (it's already passed in the Senate). Socialized medicine is not even up for discussion.
Mr. Doyle's plan, then, may not be the most desirable, but is it worthy of support? Given the range of possibilities, I must reluctantly acquiesce with the governor. Like most proposals that combine the public and private sectors, it is horrendously complicated (although this is partly the fault of state Republicans, who have deliberately misled the public — at the behest of their corporate donors, no doubt).
It involves a 9-12 percent tax increase on employer payrolls and a 4 percent tax increase on workers' wages in order to provide health insurance to (almost) everyone in the state, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In turn, employees would choose from different state health insurance plans. Aside from covering more people, the plan's main advantages include increased benefits, such as mental health coverage, and lower costs for patients, doctors and hospitals.
Admittedly, Healthy Wisconsin is bold — by American standards, anyway. Its progressive nature, combined with its sheer potential to become law, warrants its support from progressive Wisconsinites. The downside is that it fails to eliminate all the baggage that comes with corporate control of health care, since the private sector is still heavily involved.
The urgency of the health care problem means that immediate action is necessary. Every day, people die because they can't afford coverage, even as the pharmaceutical companies make record profits. Healthy Wisconsin is, at the very least, a step in the right direction. The next step is socialized medicine.
Kyle Szarzynski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in Spanish and history.