Would adopting Universal Health Care in the U.S.A. be seen as "Uncapitalist"?  My discussion topic stems from an inner-turmoil I feel in being both part of a Capitalist society, and of a mind set...

Would adopting Universal Health Care in the U.S.A. be seen as "Uncapitalist"?


My discussion topic stems from an inner-turmoil I feel in being both part of a Capitalist society, and of a mind set to want our country to be better at allowing Universal Rights. Specifically, a Universal Right to feel well without illness or disease depleting one's wallet. Some may argue, especially here in the U.S.A. that it is not a right as of the time of this discussion to be both well and financial secure simultaneously.

I strongly have believed in a Capitalist economy. I like the idea that if you want to be able to do business, you can. I like that it's relatively easy to start a business and to act in a manner that will engage in profits. I like that there isn't a lot of red tape that bars one from business.

Our healthcare system has become a very successful Capitalist venture. However, it very easily bankrupts millions of Americans every year who simply want to be well.

So, in this discussion, I wish for insights as to how we might move together forward in both a Capitalist system-interested in profit and a Humanitarian country also interested in perserving our Human Rights to wellness. Can the two be reconciled? Clearly at this time, there's a schism of the two ideas.    

Expert Answers
enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Where there is a great human need, a great supply will evolve.  This is a fundamental law of supply and demand.  What Capitalism insures is that supply and demand are allowed to rise or fall contingent upon market forces, if left on a truly level playing field.

Where healthcare has gone wrong is that the demand is high (everyone wants it) and supply is both limited and expensive, so supply and demand law does not seem to apply.  But why is this?  If there are no competitors in such a system, such a state of affairs can exist; however, as soon as some entity does it cheaper, faster, and better, supply can more effectively meet demand. This is the principle of having a level playing field.

If, however, the field is not level, if certain suppliers are favored, a coercive market or monopoly exists, where goods and services (supply) is kept artificially high and expensive.

Such is the case with heathcare in the United States.

There's no reason that it cannot be relatively cheap, efficient, and effective.  The reason it is not is not due to a failure of Capitalism; it is due to the negligence of government.

Since the days of Medicare and Medicaid and HMO's and to our current system, government has consistently not allowed competition to occur in the healthcare industry.  Competition, the result of a level playing field, keeps all the players honest.  But for many years, a few key players have been allowed to act in collusion.  And government, rather than upholding the principles of free trade and open markets, has gone exactly the other way, creating conditions where a coercive market can evolve.

And why is this?  Why should government favor a few key players to create such conditions, hurting the vast majority of Americans who cannot get reasonable care and coverage at a reasonable price?  Why do certain CEO's in the healthcare industry make millions?  Because their salaries are based on how well they've provided healthcare to consumers, or because within a closed market, consumers have no choice but to pay outrageous fees for poor service?

The only reason coercive markets exist is because a third element between supply and demand has been allowed to be the middleman.  In the case of healthcare, the Health Insurance Industry has dictated to consumers what will be covered, and dictated to providers what will be treated.  They, in effect, have been allowed by government to regulate the industry to line their own pockets.

And why should government allow such a travesty to occur, in effect, killing people who need health services that they may not be able to afford because of an artificial market?

There are almost 6 Health Insurance Lobbyists per member of Congress.  Since they've been allowed to influence Congress, the broken market has been allowed to continue.  In no other business has this been so apparent.  Like GM, Heathcare Insurance (effectively just one or a handful of companies) should have been allowed to be modified through market forces and sink or swim without government help.  But now government would legally entrench them as the supplier to the nation for health.  God help us all.

There's nothing wrong with Capitalism.  If government ever does its proper job of safeguarding rights (and that includes access to open and free markets) it will be Capitalism that will solve the heathcare crisis.  If free market healthcare is allowed to appear, meaning that it is neither regulated nor favored by government, the best supplier will provide the best services to the most consumers at the cheapest cost.

And that's the only way out.

amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fundamental capitalism, the free market, built on competition on a level playing field works relatively well: much better than communism. I think someone already mentioned this: there is no level playing field. As such, the government has to step in and make adjustments. Governmental regulation is often seen as a tendency towards socialism and scolded simply on that premise. There is a lot of bad baggage with Marxism and socialism, so there is a ingrained reflex of opposition to anything reminiscent of either -ism. This Capitalist-Marxist dichotomy is part of the binary opposition (Right-Left) mindset that too often dictates our thinking. Instead of waiting for the market to correct itself, which - since it is not truly a free, level playing field, it won't correct itself as quickly as free market proponents assume - why not have the government intervene? This kind of mythological faith in the 'invisible hand of the market' trumping faith in the people we elect baffles me. I understand that capitalism is the best economic system to date, but it is not like an infallible god as Adam Smith's language sometimes implies. If universal health care is 'uncapitalist,' so what? As long as it is an improvement, it should be applauded. It has worked in other capitalist countries.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the health care industry makes up so much of the American economy, it would be easy to argue that if the U.S., specifically, adopts Universal Health Care then it is venturing further away from capitalism.  If the true competitive nature of capitalism were encouraged in the health care arena (i.e., widespread access to a large variety of different types of health insurance, across-state-lines buying  power, and tax credits), then America would most likely be able to encourage capitalism while still ensuring that citizens had reasonable opportunity to buy health insurance.

This issue with health care being a universal right doesn't necessary apply here, because all of the current proposals actually discuss health insurance reform which is not a universal right.  If you state that a universal right includes people having access to services without depleting their wallets, it implies an illogical precedent for the government providing other services that might be expensive.  We simply don't have the money in America to ensure such "rights."

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no way to have a perfectly capitalist society that also provides health care as a universal human right.  To provide universal health care you must order doctors to treat all patients and/or you must order patients to get health insurance.  Either way, you are telling people what economic decisions to make.  There's no way around it.

One thing to consider is that we have never been a fully capitalist society.  There are already plenty of government regulations about economic choices -- everything from cars having to have seat belts to banning the sale of drugs and banning prostitution.  Each of these is an infringment on the right to do what you want with your property.

So providing universal health care wouldn't mean the end of capitalism.  What it would do is move us farther on the continuum from pure capitalism to a pure command economy.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Number 9 underscores my point.  If the health insurance corporations were not allowed to maintain a monopoly, they each could charge whatever increases they want, and you would be free to shop around and go to a competitor.  As the system stands, government, instead of breaking apart the monopoly, instead of legally charging them with restraint of trade, has tacitly allowed the monopoly to exist, limited your ability to choose for a provider that works for you, and constrained doctors and other practitioners regarding what they can treat.  In short, the government has destroyed healthcare by allowing the creation of a coercive monopoly.

booksnmore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Doesn't a capitalist system rely on competition to some extent? That's where it seems like the health care system we have has utterly failed. Yes, there are different insurance providers, but if they're all basically offering the same unattainable package (for much of society), then is it really capitalist? If insurance companies don't really have to compete to offer reasonable packages, is it capitalist?

The points made in #2 above, middle paragraph, ring especially true in health care. Government almost has to be involved in things that involve the  safety of the consumer, despite the resulting lack of complete freedom.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Insurance companies will not allow for any radical healthcare reform. They have been allowed to basically do wht they want in regards to cost for to many years. Each year we renegotiate our insurance costs and the firsty thing our agent tells us every year is to expect at least a 20% increase. We then are able to "negotiate" down to only a 12 or 13% increase.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If capitalism is considered an economic system ownership, production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is mainly by private individuals or corporations, then even though the healthcare itself might be closer to socialism the management of the program and services would still be a capitalist venture woudn't it?

realworld | Student

Its not uncapitalist.still its works under the frame work of present capitalist notion with the exception of being under the supervision of govt.Not throwing away entirely to market i.e.peoples health.Here govt will look after its set procedures and will see that every beneficiary could avail.This tendency generally seen in socialist economy but here under capitalist frame work with the partial control taken over by the govt.regarding crucial such as peoples health.because health care to all its citizens is prime responsibility of any state.And in capitalism "invisible hand" does not give guarantee to people(customers) health rather than "Profits".If peole are not healthy,then,who will buy?there is no market with out the customers-Buyers-Voters-People-Country.Free market should be confined to commodities not people,because people are not commodoties.Such as in India,where free market is free until or unless that freedom does not threatens the very Fundamental Rights given by the Contitution under which people are supreme not market.beacuse its secondary to the nation.

epollock | Student

If it saves money, it might be seen as the perfect capitalist market.  If it doesn't, then it won't.  It is hard to see Medicare in the shape it is now, so until that is fixed or solved, there will always be too many unknowns in the problem.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Capitalist system is defined as an economic system in which all capital, including money and capital assets are owned and operated by private individuals who are free to use these assets as they consider fit for promoting their own interest. People who support capitalist system, argue that such a selfish pursuit of self interest in a perfectly competitive society will automatically result in promoting common good of all. These arguments used for supporting capitalistic system are based on the ideas of Adam Smith in his book Wealth of Nations first published in 1776.

In the last 230 years since publication of this book by Adam Smith a lot of progress has been made in the field of economics. It has been now established that the ideas of Adam Smith are nowhere near as perfect as these were initially believed to be. It has been established that the perfect condition, a precondition for capitalism leading to good of all, does not and can never exist in reality. It makes no sense to try to protect a capitalist system just for the love of capitalist system. Any economic system must be designed to maximize the common good of all the people. It is now known that a pure capitalist system is incapable of achieving such objectives. There is no point in discussing if the the universal health care in USA will be "uncapitalist" or not. We should concentrate on discussing if this will improve the level of health care services to people without disproportionate increase in costs.