What do Slovenia and the U.S. have in common? According to the results of a 2000 World Health Organization (WHO) ranking of the world’s health systems, the U.S. ranks ahead of Slovenia by one place in the rankings. The U.S. ranks 37th while Slovenia ranks 38th. But if you think these rankings are bad for the U.S., just wait, they could get worse, at least in Virginia.
Under the pen of Gov. Bob McDonnell, funding for community health centers and free clinics would be cut in half, from $10 million to $5 million, for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. What’s more, according to a Virginia Health and Human Resources report issued in late 2011, close to 298,000 low-income Virginians will stay in the uninsured category even after President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act takes effect.
For anyone who doesn’t see this issue through a moral lens, let’s look quickly at the economics of this issue. If a fraction of these 298,000 low-income Virginians end up requiring expensive health care, Virginia’s taxpayers will have to pick up the tab while insurance premiums for the insured may increase as well. Thus, the problems of the medically uninsured have the strong potential to become a problem for the medically insured as well, economically speaking.
But doing the right thing is also at issue here. If Virginia is a sinking ship, do we allow only those who know how to swim live, or do we try and save those who don’t know how? Can we live with the former option? Americans, and Virginians in particular, have always prided themselves on being exceptional, but this exceptionalism has usually been perceived as having positive consequences. Now, Virginia runs the risk of being exceptional at how little we tend towards the least fortunate in our state.
Some conservatives argue that the uninsured have failed in some social-Darwinistic sense. But many of the proponents of social-Darwinistic thinking were brought up in a social milieu of opportunity and privilege. Can every low-income Virginian without health care insurance say the same thing? If not, if opportunities for advancement and economic prosperity have not even been marginally equivalent, how can it be argued that those low-income Virginians without health insurance should not be assisted by those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been born into a world of relative privilege and opportunity?
Health care for all Americans is about doing the right thing, whether it’s from a moral or a purely economic (“logical”) sense. In regards to morality, those of us who have been lucky enough to have been born into a privileged social context, we have a responsibility to help those in our society who have not been so fortunate. Economically, why should Virginians end up spending more money to solve medical problems later on in the treatment process when we can spend less now to help more uninsured low-income Virginians receive appropriate medical care? There are still many details to be fleshed out, but we should all be able to agree that leaving low-income members of our society to unceremoniously fall off of the medical band-wagon is unacceptable.