"How Health Care Reform Would Help Contain The Swine Flu"
Under the ‘what should I do if I get sick‘ section of the CDC’s ‘Swine Flu and You’ page, the agency writes that “if you live in areas where swine influenza cases have been identified and become ill with influenza-like symptoms…you may want to contact their health care provider, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms. Your health care provider will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed.”
But for the millions of Americans who can’t afford to purchase health insurance, a visit to a “health care provider” is an expensive proposition. We know that the 45.7 million Americans without insurance are less likely to visit a doctor and receive needed care, but the the economic crisis, the erosion of employer-based benefits and the skyrocketing costs of health insurance are now causing an increasing number of insured Americans to avoid their “health care provider.” According to the latest Kaiser Poll, 60 percent of Americans say that “they or a member of their household have delayed or skipped health care in the past year” and many are “substituting home remedies or over the counter drugs for doctors visits.”
Unsustainable health care prices are already threatening the nation’s economic prosperity, but in the midst of a possible flu epidemic, the consequences of a large number of Americans forgoing care because it’s too costly become all the more frighting.
This isn’t to say that health care reform will end epidemics. Providing everyone with affordable access to basic medical benefits can only contain health emergencies, but it’s now difficult to argue that extending coverage to all Americans is a wasteful entitlement, or that the insured have little to gain from bringing everyone into the system.
More broadly, the epidemic serves a reminder that the health care system is in many ways a public function. Free markets work very well for ordinary consumption goods, but Tamiflu is not an ordinary consumption good. It’s important to be able to direct the health care delivery system’s resources toward public purposes and not have the resources allocated purely by market demand.