Well, I can’t actually take credit for the title of this post. The credit goes to my sister Ashley Duncan who said this during a great conversation we were having the other day.
But, it got me thinking she is onto something. It seems to me so much of the time we get caught up in the details of things that we forget about the context. And, in reality, context is everything. There are so few absolutes. For example, we all know the 1st amendment guarantees free speech, but you can still get in trouble if you yell fire in a crowded theater when there really isn’t a fire. And when I was in public health school many years ago I took a law class called “Public Health Law and Human Rights”, where we studied legal cases about the balance between individual rights and the public good. For example, if someone was infected with a communicable disease that would put others at risk of catching it by being around them, that person could be forcibly quarantined. As much as people like to argue for individual rights with no limits, there are practical things that make it complicated because we are part of a broader society whether we like it or not. I guess that all-too-common saying – “It’s Not All About You!” is true.
I keep hearing all these people argue about government spending and entitlements and complaining about all the money that is being spent on things like welfare and food stamps, so I decided to do some research. What I found was very interesting. For one thing, yes, the USDA did fork out more than $20 million in excess financial assistance last year, but OOPS, it didn’t go to food stamps, it went to farm subsidies for crop insurance. There were no overpayments for nutrition assistance (AKA foodstamps). (http://tinyurl.com/kqtmn2u). Excess payments averaged $209,000 excess per payout. I know, I know. It’s not nearly as bad as the welfare mom who spends $20 on a steak instead of buying 5 packages of Oscar Mayer bologna with that $20. She’s so irresponsible.
Of course, anyone who knows anything about “entitlement programs” knows that welfare and food stamps are very small outlays when compared with Social Security and Medicare, which is a form of socialized insurance. Is Medicare an entitlement or a safety net? Well, it is definitely an entitlement, based on the definition. But, most reasonable people would also say it’s a safety net for the millions who rely on it. All these responsible people are so concerned about the outrageous amount of money that the government will have to spend if the United States offers universal health care. Well, here’s an interesting fact. While many criticize “socialized medicine”, if you look at the numbers globally, the US has the highest per capita health care costs of most industrialized nations, even those with universal health care (see chart below). What? You mean providing a “safety net” might actually be a more efficient use of funding than keeping low-to-moderate income people from having insurance? What people often don’t think about is that even without universal health care taxpayers are still footing the bill for the trips to the emergency room that uninsured people make to get health care because they don’t have any other way to get it. That’s an expensive safety net, isn’t it?
If you want some more information about the potential for saving money by offering universal health care, take a look at this interesting site that documents several studies in several states that have been conducted over the past 20 years, showing lots of ways we can save money while offering health care to everyone. Maybe safety nets are not such a bad investment after all?