by Sarah Nahrgang
Monday night, the Penn State College Republicans and College Democrats had their first debate of the semester. Beginning a little after 8 PM in 158 Willard and moderated by UPUA’s Governmental Affairs Committee, the debate focused on the topic of healthcare.
Debating for the College Republicans were club member William McCarter, Vice President Reagan McCarthy, and Treasurer Riley Compton, who said their favorite Presidents were Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Calvin Coolidge, respectively. Debating for the College Democrats were club member Josh Weisman, Executive Vice President Johnna Purcell, and club member Jacob Klipstein, who said their favorite Presidents were Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, respectively.
Among the topics discussed were Medicare and Medicaid, the ACA, birth control access, single-payer, and whether healthcare is a right, which, surprisingly, both sides agreed it was not. Otherwise, the debate was relatively uninteresting and fruitless, with a lack of compelling arguments on both sides. The CRs presented as impersonal and unsympathetic, whereas the Dems relied on anecdotal evidence and sob stories. Neither position was optimal, probably because a good solution to the problems with American healthcare does not exist.
While the CRs employed statistics to back up their claims, unlike the Dems, their position still came off as comparatively unattractive, relying on the “free market” to solve present problems in healthcare access. Compton argued this stance by saying, “Free market solutions work, and Medicaid and Medicare do not.”
As the Dems correctly identified, there are Americans who cannot afford health insurance, and the CR’s free market solution does nothing to immediately rectify this. But insinuating, as Klipstein did, that “we are letting the poor die,” falsely paints the CRs as being unsympathetic. CRs focused more on the quality of care and the Dems focused more on how many people are covered.
Just because more people may be covered under the ACA, does not mean their health outcomes will be improved. In fact, they statistically have not improved. McCarter stressed this point on three occasions during the debate, including during the CRs’ closing statement, which emphasized its importance. “You can’t just throw more money at the problem,” argued McCarter.
Most of the debate carried on in this same manner, as a back and forth picking on each other’s weaknesses in their arguments. Both sides had pros and cons, and neither proposed a solution that is both effective and feasible. The Dems attacked the CRs for the GOP’s failure to follow through on their promise to repeal and replace the ACA, and the CRs attacked the Dems for their frequent use of anecdotal evidence to emotionally manipulate the populace.
Both groups want Americans to have access to health care, but the main difference between the two camps deals with the outcomes of that access and what “access” means in the first place. This disagreement over definitions and outcomes is a commonality for many splits among the American Right and Left. The Right defines access as something which is achieved, whereas the Left defines access as something which is given.
For healthcare, this means the Right wants a free market in which providers and consumers can compete for the best healthcare at the lowest cost. All interactions and exchanges would be voluntary. Naturally, this means that not everyone would care to purchase health insurance, and that would be their own prerogative. While doctors could try to increase prices without government regulation, the idea here is that the free market would keep them in check.
As for those who wish to have health insurance but can’t afford it, the general idea of this free market system would be that competition would reduce costs to the point where this would cease to be a problem. While idealistic, this system at least seems fair. The biggest con to this approach concerns the immediate healthcare needs of poor Americans now, not in the theoretical, distant future. Also, with millions of Americans already relying on the ACA, and the incredibly high prices of many healthcare services, the GOP does almost nothing to solve the immediate problems which many in the US have become accustomed to seeing their government solve.
This is where the Left comes in. The Left wants healthcare access to be given and regulated by the government, in order to assure that everyone is covered, and covered by certain standards. The complex interactions of free market competition will be replaced in this system by a single payer, government taxation. This approach appears to be much simpler and remove a lot of stress from the average American. With the ACA in place, as well as the perverse incentives created by other government involvement in the industry, socialized medicine seems nearly inevitable.
The main problem with this single-payer system, however, is that it restricts liberty, especially religious liberty. Under a socialized system, taxes will most likely fund services that many would not wish to pay for, namely birth control, sterilizations, and abortion, something millions of Americans believe to be wrong on a fundamental moral level. The single-payer system eliminates choice for both doctors and patients and creates a government-run monopoly, which stifles competition, giving no incentive to increase quality or decrease cost. The VA healthcare system is just one example of the kind of healthcare we can expect from socialization.
There is a reason why people have long come from all over the world to American hospitals to be treated by Americans doctors, and our recent flirt with socialized medicine is not behind it. However, it is undeniable that without socialization there will be Americans who can not afford healthcare. As socialization increases, so does the cost of healthcare, increasing the proportion of people who can’t afford it. The healthcare system is broken on multiple levels and will not be fixed any time soon. Until then, it will remain a losing issue for whichever side touches it.