One strong predictor of overall health is whether a person has stable, consistent access to health care. People who have a primary care provider or case coordinator familiar with their medical history tend to be healthier, overall, than people who do not, and are forced to rely on a patchwork of providers for medical treatment. They also tend to live longer, and they incur fewer medical expenses over the course of their lives. In the event of illness, they have better outcomes as a result of early identification and medical intervention from their care teams.
Economically, this is very important information. From a purely utilitarian perspective, ensuring that people have access to stable medical treatment saves money, which means that it should be of interest to people concerned with cutting health care expenses overall. People who are healthier are less likely to miss work, for example, which results in fewer economic losses for business. They are also less likely to contract infectious diseases and transmit them to others. They are less likely to become reliant on social services for assistance, which can translate to significant savings over time.
Longer lifespan means more potential for economic productivity, for people concerned with this kind of thing. And of course fewer medical expenses are a direct savings. People who receive care to prevent disease incur fewer expenses because they don’t need treatment for said disease, and the early identification of emergent illness means it’s usually less costly to manage. A cancer identified at stage one, for example, is way less expensive to manage than a stage four cancer—and it’s more likely to result in a positive outcome for the patient.
The fact that routine access to medical care is so inaccessible to many people in the United States is a cause for deep concern both economically and ethically. It’s horrific that many people do not have a primary care provider to see for basic health problems which subsequently get worse and force them into the rapidly shrinking social safety net, for example. And it’s deeply wrong that people are dying because of preventable diseases, or illnesses that could have been caught and treated very early at minimal expense and trauma to the patient. Ethically, this is simply wrong, and it speaks poorly of the United States that these conditions continue to be tolerated; here we are touting our greatness, and we can’t even prevent routine childhood illnesses.
Economically, it’s also a travesty. The best way to cut health care expenses is to provide health care. Straight up. This has been amply and repeatedly documented, and yet, despite the substantial evidence on the subject, people seem resistant to the idea. Conservatives arguing that health care reform is too expensive don’t actually care about economics, of course; they’re just resistant to the idea of providing medical care to the entire population of the United States because they think health is a responsibility and not a human right, and they believe that people who can’t afford routine care, let alone expensive treatments, should rely on charities rather than the government.
The thing is, though, that the government could administer health plans far more efficiently and effectively than charities ever could. A healthy population would make a substantial economic impact, and could in fact be a key part of economic recovery. As people in the United States struggle to make ends meet, many are cutting corners on their health care, because they have to cut costs somewhere to survive. That translates into a higher incidence of morbidity and mortality overall; the United States is literally a sick nation, and that has a very direct, profound, and painful economic impact.
If conservatives in the US don’t care about the cost savings of administering health care on a national level, they should at least care about economic recovery overall. They’re fond of claiming that this country is the greatest place on Earth, and they express dismay about the downfall of US-produced products and services. If they want to restore the US as a world power, one of the best ways to start would be by providing health care to the populace; because healthy people are, overall, more productive people.
And perhaps in a country where access to routine health care is a given, people with disabilities would be in a better position to manage their conditions and be involved in their communities, because they wouldn’t be caught in an endless snarl of bureaucracy. And wouldn’t be the ‘benefits-sucking leeches’ the conservatives like to evoke in speeches and literature, because they, too, would experience lower health care costs from routine access to preventative care.
This might also start to address the stigma experienced by people with disabilities, who are often treated as moral failures for not being healthy. In a world where health care is a right, and is routine, people who need more care than others shouldn’t be more remarkable, and shouldn’t be viewed as drains on the system for accessing what is, after all, their right: to live as healthily and happily as possible.
People outside the US often express horror when they talk to me about health care in this country, because they cannot believe the conditions here, and they cannot believe the way this country treats its residents. I’m in agreement from a purely social perspective; it is, quite simply, deeply wrong, and it makes me deeply unhappy to be a US citizen. But I’m also in agreement from an economic one, because it makes no sense whatsoever to perpetuate an expensive and dysfunctional system that doesn’t provide coverage to all citizens and actively endangers public health.