Mar
11
2008

Warfare and Healthcare

It’s kind of logical. In a pathological way.

A country that devotes a vast array of resources to killing capabilities will steadily undermine its potential for healing. For social justice. For healthcare as a human right.

Martin Luther King Jr. described the horrific trendline four decades ago: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

If a society keeps approaching spiritual death, it’s apt to arrive. Here’s an indicator: Nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are badly under-insured. Here’s another: The United States, the world’s preeminent warfare state, now spends about $2 billion per day on military pursuits.

Gaining healthcare for all will require overcoming the priorities of the warfare state. That’s the genuine logic behind the new "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign.

I remember the ferocious media debate over the proper government role in healthcare -- 43 years ago. As the spring of 1965 got underway, the bombast was splattering across front pages and flying through airwaves. Many commentators warned that a proposal for a vast new program would bring "socialism" and destroy the sanctity of the free-enterprise system. The new federal program was called Medicare.

These days, when speaking on campuses, I bring up current proposals for a "single payer" system -- in effect, Medicare for Americans of all ages. Most students seem to think it’s a good idea. But once in a while, someone vocally objects that such an arrangement would be "socialism." The objection takes me back to the media uproar of early 1965.

Today, we’re left with the unfulfilled potential of Medicare for all. It could make healthcare real as a human right. And it could spare our society a massive amount of money now going to administrative costs and corporate gouging. At last count, annual insurance-industry profits reached $57.5 billion in 2006.

On Capitol Hill, lobbyists for the corporate profiteers are determined to block H.R. 676, the bill to create a universal single-payer system to implement healthcare as a human right.

In the current presidential campaign, none of the major candidates can be heard raising the possibility of ejecting the gargantuan insurance industry from the nation’s healthcare system. Instead, there’s plenty of nattering about whether "mandates" are a good idea. Hillary Clinton even has the audacity (not of hope but of duplicity) to equate proposed healthcare "mandates" with the must-pay-in requirements that sustain Social Security and Medicare.

For Clinton’s analogy to make sense, we’d have to accept the idea that requiring everyone to pay taxes to the government for a common-good program is akin to requiring everyone to pay premiums to private insurance companies for personal medical coverage.

A recent New York Times story was authoritative as it plied the conventional media wisdom. The lead sentence declared that an "immediate challenge that will confront the next administration" is the matter of "how to tame the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid." And the news article pointedly noted that current federal spending for those health-related programs adds up to $627 billion.

I’ve been waiting for a New York Times news story to declare that an immediate challenge for the next administration will be the matter of how to tame the soaring costs of the Pentagon. After all, the government’s annual military spending -- when you factor in the supplemental bills for warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is well above the $627 billion for Medicare and Medicaid that can cause such alarm in the upper reaches of the nation’s media establishment.

Assessing the current presidential race, the Times reported: "The Democrats do not say, in any detail, how they would slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid or what they think about the main policy options: rationing care, raising taxes, cutting payments to providers or requiring beneficiaries to pay more."

There are other "policy options" -- including drastic cuts in the Pentagon budget. And healthcare for all.