The implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also informally known as Obamacare, has bring the U.S. closer to the idea of universal healthcare system that has existed in many other developed countries including Canada, U.K. and Australia. But the implementation of ACA has not been without controversy as judged by the accusations such as the unnecessary government intrusion into the largely private healthcare system in the U.S. to rising healthcare premiums for some. Some of the critics of the idea of the universal healthcare system believe the healthcare costs are an individual’s own responsibility, and it is not fair to force some Americans to finance the healthcare costs of their fellow Americans. It is clear the critics of the universal healthcare system tend to believe the healthcare is a private good and not a public good and the healthcare providers have a right to put profits over guaranteed access to healthcare for everyone irrespective of their financial circumstances. This perspective is wrong and has been rejected by many other developed economies. Such a perspective has largely been shaped by an inaccurate understanding of the healthcare issue such as the nature of the healthcare right, and the economics of the healthcare sector.
One of the sources of contention between the supporters and the critics of the ACA is their relative understanding of the nature of healthcare. The critics of the universal healthcare system view the healthcare as a private good that should only be available to those who can afford it. But the healthcare is not a privilege that should be earned but a basic right that should be available to everyone. A patient should be treated even if he cannot afford a certain treatment, and the society should develop a mechanism that funds the healthcare treatments of its financially-struggling members. The healthcare is a basic right just like education, and the developed countries usually offer free public high school education to everyone irrespective of their economic circumstances. Those who can afford better healthcare services can always opt for the best healthcare services, but the society should ensure everyone has access to at least certain minimum levels of healthcare services. It is important to understand that the universal healthcare system doesn’t mean one has equal access to the best healthcare services; just that everyone has, at least, an affordable access to most healthcare services.
Some critics believe the healthcare sector has the right to maximize its profits. The healthcare sector would have been deserving of my support if it were truly a financially struggling sector, but the reality could not have been more different. In fact, the very inefficient market structure of the healthcare sector has been a culprit in its unusually high profits, and for preventing millions of Americans with an access to affordable healthcare. A research report by Sageworks, a financial information company, found in 2014 that the economic sector with the most profitable private sector businesses are real estate and healthcare . Americans spend an average of $1,500 per person more than their counterparts in Canada and other Western Europe countries . It is clear the healthcare sector is guilty of giving too much importance to profits as compared to their responsibility to the society. Even for-profit companies are not entirely excused from their social responsibilities. In fact, the consumers are more concerned than ever about the corporate social responsibility behaviors displayed by private sector corporations.
All patients should have access to medical treatments even if they cannot afford it. The government and the healthcare providers have a responsibility to ensure the existence of certain minimum healthcare service standards in the society. This doesn’t mean everyone should have equal access to the best of healthcare services but one should have access to, at least, certain necessary healthcare services. The government does ensure free public education to everyone but those with greater economic means can always choose to opt for better quality private schools. Healthcare is a right and not a privilege, and most of the developed countries recognize this. It is time U.S. also recognize that access to certain minimum standards of healthcare should not be determined by one’s economic circumstances.