Health care—yet another ever-so-complicated, ever-so-polarizing issue in modern American politics. With 14 percent of Americans uninsured, voters are turning their focus to candidates’ plans to reform the U.S. health care system.
Many liberal politicians are calling more and more fervently for a public system, with most Democrats falling somewhere between simply wanting a public option or doing away with health care insurance in the private sector altogether. To better understand the arguments, let’s unpack these ideas, along with conservative response to them.
First of all, what is private vs. public heath care? Private health care insurance refers to U.S. citizens buying into plans from companies like United Health, Humana, or Blue Cross Blue Shield. Often, private insurance is provided or recommended by an individual’s employer. Currently, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 74 percent of Americans enroll in this private system, which has its pros and cons.
Many conservatives support health care in the private sector, citing that private companies allow for more options for providers and individual care. This system also supports the free market system, which many right-leaning politicians and citizens aim to protect, by encouraging competition and theoretically prompting companies to cut prices to appeal to consumers.
On the other side, however, many on the left argue that privatized insurance prioritizes shareholder profits over quality of care, resulting in high costs for Americans with subpar health care in return. Critics submit that this private system awards health care like a privilege, granting insurance that makes medical care possible only to those who can afford it.
Public health care, meanwhile, involves government-issued health insurance and is also known as universal health care. This includes the “Medicare for all” plans cited by presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others. In its most radical form, public health care would involve the federal government taking the place of private insurance companies as the mediator between citizens and health care providers, doing away with private options altogether.
Proponents of public health care see the single-payer system, where there would only be one government-sponsored insurance provider, as a necessity to grant Americans the right to health care. This system, those on the left argue, would eliminate corporate greed by insurance companies and ensure equal, adequate and affordable care for all Americans. Politicians cite the success of many other major countries in implementing similar “Medicare for all” plans, including the likes of Canada, Denmark and Australia.
Recently, another option has gained national traction, combining aspects of both private and public health care. Many, including multiple current presidential candidates, advocate for a system containing private and public options depending on the wants and needs of each individual citizen.
Termed “Medicare for all who want it” by Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, this plan seems to be a satisfactory compromise to its supporters. The plan potentially frees Americans from inflated prices driven by private corporations while still offering choice for citizens to choose their own provider. Additionally, some advocates for this system, including Buttigieg, see it as a possible stepping-stone towards a single-payer system.
Ultimately, to determine your personal stance on American health care and how it should be reformed, if at all, consider what aspects of the debate are most valuable to you. Recognize the pros and cons for each side without bias. Avoid the unproductive, party-driven squabbling in order to understand and address the core human issues within the health care debate.
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