Health is a public good. Healthcare is a moral obligation. Whether or not you choose to believe either one of these statements probably determines whether or not you support universal healthcare. One cannot simply argue that it is a moral dilemma and expect to win over a crowd that could care less. You have to instead appeal to their logic, you have to make them feel the decision for universal healthcare is in their best interest.
So let’s try to do just that.
Public health IS a ‘public good.’ A public good is defined as:
A good that is non-excludable, and non-rivalrous (national defense, street lights, clean air…). A commodity or service provided without profit to all members of society.
Public health is one of these things. Sure, you can “exclude” someone from being healthy- poisoning or denying care would do it. But, you cannot exclude someone from the public health. In other words, I can let Johnny die from bird-flu but I cannot stop Johnny from spreading it to me in a public place. I cannot stop the sorrow, or the loss in economic activity caused by Johnny’s death from burdening the public. A company cannot market “public health,” you can’t profit by investing in it because once you invest you incentivize others too free-ride the gains.
That being said, there is a role for us- and the government, to play to provide for the well-being of society. When someone dies, a child, a person in their mid-30’s 40’s and 50’s because they did not have adequate care, a hidden burden is placed on society. The burden? Opportunity cost. Instead of dying, the person could be working, could be buying things- be an active member of society. Their family would be under less stress and the grief felt by them and those around them would be muted. The costs are both monetary and emotional. In all, the costs often will outweigh the benefits of not providing care.
Lets say a man in his mid-30’s loses his job and is without health insurance and discovers he has testicular cancer. With treatment he has well over a 50% chance of survival, at least for a decade. The expected cost of letting this man die even if he is going to earn only 30,000 dollars a year once he finds employment is at least $150,000 (this doesn’t count a ‘multiplier’ usually attributed to spending, or a discount for future earned income) in monetary terms- but probably multiple times more.
A man who fails to go to the hospital with a communicable disease also places an unknown financial burden on society, by causing others to get sick. When people get sick (or themselves die from the sickness) they miss work, their families are without support or companion. There is a ripple effect.
Now just because health should be provided for, as a public good, does not mean that individual responsibility should be taken out of the equation. Instead, people should contribute. Even poor families should contribute to a pool (richer families should perhaps contribute more.) There needs to be a real cost to using healthcare to avoid people going in for everyday colds, whether it be $20, $50, or $100 a visit I cannot tell you, but the cost should be real. However, to burden a family with a hundred, or multiple hundred thousands of dollars in medical bills, to the point they drop out of the system is a waste- it is a waste of both public and private resources.
People that would “game” the system, such as those who choose to smoke cigarettes knowing that it causes cancer, or those who drink knowing that it damages your liver and causes many accidental deaths should anti-up and be responsible for their actions. Does that mean that we avoid coverage when we can save them? No. Instead it means that they should pick up the public burden for their habits. This would probably look like a heavy tax on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for their treatment. Could it mean paying an extra cent per can of soda to reduce the burden of treating diabetes, sure. But the important thing is that everyone is covered.
It is more than just a moral issue, it is a civic responsibility. It is good for you, and it is good for society.