(from Des Moines Register -- published on December 6, 2005)
Here’s news for anyone who opposes a taxpayer-financed system of health care in the United States: The country already has one. More than one. Public dollars subsidize health care at every turn.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the government picks up nearly 44 percent of the cost of health care in the United States. Medicare, for seniors and the disabled; Medicaid, for the poor; and health insurance for veterans are all government systems of care. All are funded with taxpayer dollars.
Plus, public employees’ health insurance is at least partially subsidized with tax dollars. In the Des Moines schools, for example, tax dollars paid $36.2 million for workers' health care last fiscal year, the equivalent of salaries alone for about 840 teachers.
Residents of Des Moines pay more than $1,000 a month to provide family health care for each of their part-time City Council members. The state of Iowa will spend $245 million in 2006 on medical care for state workers. That doesn't even include state troopers or faculty and professional staff at the three state universities. At Iowa State University, for example, the projected medical and dental cost in 2006 is $43 million.
Everyone from the city engineer to members of Congress gets a little help from the taxpayer.
Taxpayers also pay, in a sense, to help employers pay for health insurance. Employer contributions for medical care and medical-insurance premiums are excluded from taxes. That was a loss of revenue for the federal government that totaled more than $120 billion in fiscal year 2005 — more than 20 times Iowa's $4.9 billion state budget.
So people may say they oppose a tax-financed system of health care for everyone, but the country already pays part of the bill for nearly everyone, at least indirectly.
That's one reason why no one should resent people who receive direct taxpayer-funded care, from the federal-state Medicaid program or Iowa's HAWK-I, the state program for kids in low- to moderate-income families.
The current system isn’t fair, though. Uninsured workers pay taxes to fund others’ care, but have none for themselves.
Non-veterans can’t visit the veterans hospital their tax dollars pay for, even if it's right down the street and provides the best care. Working Americans fund the Medicare system, which pays for an elderly person’s knee surgery. That same taxpayer may not be able to afford his own knee surgery.
The system is inefficient, too. Thousands of private insurance plans add up to a tangle of red tape and administrative waste — dollars not spent directly on care. A Harvard study found bureaucracy accounted for more than 30 percent of total health-care spending in 1999.
Since the government is already involved with nearly everyone's health care, why not allow everyone to buy into a uniform government program such as Medicare? Then public dollars would be spent more wisely. Fewer people would be employed to push papers. If Medicare were reformed to be more comprehensive and add a government drug benefit, the coverage could be top notch.