Universal healthcare: the affordable dream

Amartya Sen in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_930 Jan. 08 17.24Twenty-five hundred years ago, the young Gautama Buddha left his princely home, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in a state of agitation and agony. What was he so distressed about? We learn from his biography that he was moved in particular by seeing the penalties of ill health – by the sight of mortality (a dead body being taken to cremation), morbidity (a person severely afflicted by illness), and disability (a person reduced and ravaged by unaided old age). Health has been a primary concern of human beings throughout history. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that healthcare for all – “universal healthcare” (UHC) – has been a highly appealing social objective in most countries in the world, even in those that have not got very far in actually providing it.

The usual reason given for not attempting to provide universal healthcare in a country is poverty. The United States, which can certainly afford to provide healthcare at quite a high level for all Americans, is exceptional in terms of the popularity of the view that any kind of public establishment of universal healthcare must somehow involve unacceptable intrusions into private life. There is considerable political complexity in the resistance to UHC in the US, often led by medical business and fed by ideologues who want “the government to be out of our lives”, and also in the systematic cultivation of a deep suspicion of any kind of national health service, as is standard in Europe (“socialised medicine” is now a term of horror in the US).

One of the oddities in the contemporary world is our astonishing failure to make adequate use of policy lessons that can be drawn from the diversity of experiences that the heterogeneous world already provides. There is much evidence of the big contributions that UHC can make in advancing the lives of people, and also (and this is very important) in enhancing economic and social opportunities – including facilitating the possibility of sustained economic growth (as has been firmly demonstrated in the experience of south-east Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and, more recently, China).

More here.