A call to conservatives on national health care

Comprehensive health insurance is an idea whose time has come in America. There has long been a need to assure every American financial access to high-quality health care. As medical costs go up, that need grows more pressing.”

- President Richard Nixon, from his 1974 Special Message to the Congress Proposing a Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan

An individual’s health affects more than just the individual. Contagious disease is the most obvious example of this; if you prevent an individual from contracting one, you prevent the spread. Or, when someone has a contagious disease, you catch it early and prevent the spread. That’s health care, and that’s why people need easy, equal, nonjudgmental access to it. For example, there was recently an outbreak of measles in Minnesota, which I would argue was due to a weak national health-care system that doesn’t educate about and promote vaccinations well enough.

Any illness also has repercussions for all of us that aren’t so obvious, from lost work of family members who care for loved ones, to people being trapped in poverty with a disability, to a costly loss of economic productivity. Sick people can’t work, and when people can’t work, economic productivity for those labor units goes down below zero, because we have to pay for them not to work. And sick children can’t learn, either.

Moral implications aside, Conservatives and “Economic Nationalists” should be advocating for a truly universal, affordable national system, because by simply being sick – which is almost always part bad luck, even in the case of high-risk behavior – a person becomes a so-called “taker.” This is why universal access to health care is a pragmatic solution for fueling greater economic growth, not a utopian socialist fantasy. And unburdening U.S. employers from administering health-care plans would save them money and put them on a more level playing field with competitors in other developed nations.

Most Americans want a comprehensive, yet simple and affordable, health-care system. Many even support a single-payer system like some of our Western allies have. But conservative representatives refuse to believe our federal government can create and manage a successful national health-care system. However, this is the politics of ideology clouding their vision, because the evidence says otherwise. Our federal government already created and manages multiple national systems, and one of those systems served me well for 23 years growing up in the U.S. Navy. The naval hospital system was so successful at caring for our family of seven, that even my very conservative father – a captain and decorated war veteran – advocated for nationalized single-payer care for all until his last breath.

I do not have much insight into the current state of the active military hospital system. But for my decades using it, I visited a military hospital – such as Bethesda Naval Hospital, where President Reagan had emergency surgery following an attempted assassination – for everything, from a general physical to an illness or an emergency. I saw a doctor. I got care. There was never much of a wait that I recall (and I was prone to accidents, so I went often). I survived an active childhood of broken bones, concussions, illnesses, surgeries and vaccinations without family bankruptcy, bills, reams of paperwork or endless arguing with a private insurer. And the doctors and other providers were both caring and skilled.

I do not know what form our national system should take, just that it should provide truly affordable care for every U.S. citizen, not empty promises. Like clean water, air, and food, health care is an essential ingredient for human life, learning, and economic activity in modern societies. For the sake of all of us, unfettered access to health care is a social good that is simply too important to leave to either the invisible hand of the free market or the hodgepodge of state incubators, and we need a few courageous conservatives to step beyond the politics and get serious about fixing it.

Stewart Waller is a former Durham resident.