A simple case for universal health care

Universal health care is inevitable. The General Welfare clause of the Constitution permits it, so it will only be a matter of time and political will. If universal health care were not permitted by the Constitution of the United States, someone would have made an effective challenge to it by now. We have something approaching universal health care in Medicare and the Veterans Administration, and they’re not going away anytime soon.

It is worth noting that those on the right continue to exhort that people must be responsible for their health care. I agree. I myself, don’t smoke, don’t drink, I don’t drink coffee, I have removed most sweets from my diet, and I eat mostly, a plant based diet. I did this for greater comfort. I did this because I was recognizing the natural consequences of not maintaining my health.

I am also working on exercise, but I’m raising two young kids and I’m still working on letting go of TV. For awhile there, I was hooked on Netflix and some Amazon Prime. But their values are beginning to fade. I’d rather pay $40 a month to join a table tennis club than pay for either of those sources of entertainment. I will keep Google Play since I play some music every day, without fail and I introduce myself to new music every week, if not every day, without commercials.

But I hear of the people who are working 2 or 3 jobs just to keep their lives together. I hear of the people who are working 40 hours a week and living on subsistence. I’m not sure The Framers had this in mind. Technology was supposed to make our lives better, and I’m not sure that it has. Which capitalists are proud of this?

While it is true that we should all be responsible for our own health, we are surrounded by businesses that have been raised on the idea of maximizing value for the shareholder. They have been raised on the idea that in order to maximize shareholder value, they must externalize the cost of their products as much as they can. These businesses, some of them large, some of them small, externalize the cost of the pollution they generated. Even if we have our products made in China, we are still paying for the costs of pollution, for pollution travels around the world.

Plastic is everywhere. It’s all over the sea now. It’s in our water supplies. It’s showing up in our food chain. And we have no idea what it will do to us. The forces of nature take the plastic we throw away and break it up into billions of little pieces too small for us to see. And we’re eating it, drinking it.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals in our food that have never been tested for consumer safety. There are untold ingredients in our processed food that is “flavoring” and therefore, a trade secret. We’re often not allowed to know what is in our food. And don’t even get me started on GMOs. Our risk assessment of GMOs is not complete, despite all the numerous studies that have been done, for there is still a risk of publication bias preventing authentic risk assessments of GMOs.

We have radiation all around us. TVs, LED lights, cell phones, the Internet of Things, airport scanners and what have you. I’m pretty sure we’ll adapt, but all of them present risks that have not been fully assessed.

And then there is global warming. We know we’re cranking out far more CO2 than nature does. We are raising our temperatures and the political will power that we have is not enough to stem the tide fast enough. We are changing the earth, our home, in ways we cannot predict with certainty.

I know. All of that is pretty depressing. But there is hope.

Universal health care is required because we cannot sue enough companies to pay for all of the health challenges presented by the things we do, the things we make and the things we consume. We’re simply not smart enough to anticipate every contingency resulting from our own actions. Even if we tried to sue for relief from the companies that foul the environment, in most cases, We The People, would be buried in motion practice in our own courts, which most of us cannot afford to attend, much less defend ourselves in. The courts have been turned on their heads to defend money, not the people.

A tax for universal health care, properly imposed, would be small because it would touch everything, every source of income from anywhere on earth that shows up in a bottom line, somewhere. And everyone would be covered, rich or poor, it wouldn’t matter. We are not free agents in a bag of skin. We are a society of human beings that, in the end, must care for each other for the survival of the species. There is no other way.

But there is another reason to support universal health care with a small universal tax on every form of income, with no cap like there is with Social Security. A universal tax means that there is no way to shift the burden to someone else. If a business makes a product, that turns out to be a popular product, but imposes stress on the environment, or it makes us sick, the cost is covered by universal health care. The cost of caring for those made sick by the products we create won’t require litigation to recover.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not proposing any limits to the liability of business for their effluents. I’m proposing that such a tax could also fund the litigation needed to stop the worst polluters and put the liability where it belongs — on the polluter. A universal health care tax could cover that cost, too.

The point is that for far too long, we’ve been shifting the costs onto the consumer. Businesses have become accustomed to using fine print to effectively outlaw class action lawsuits in pursuit of health claims. The point of business is to serve the consumer, not burden the consumer with every liability created by business yet, that is what has been happening to the consumer.

Ostensibly, business is here to make the lives of consumers easier, and in many ways they have, but also, in many ways they’ve been doing the opposite. Only in America can a legislative body give a tax cut to the wealthiest men and women in the world, to be thanked with videos and testimonials that say, “Gosh, thanks. But I don’t need this tax cut.” Warren Buffet and Abigail Disney are both on record as saying that.

So it’s time to stop fighting over the burden of health care. It’s time to us to remember that “I am my brother’s keeper”. It’s time to remember that not everything in life is a transaction to be logged and tallied in a bank account in Ireland, the Cayman Islands or Panama. It’s time to stop keeping score and make our mutual health our priority.

Write on.