I wish to counter many politicians’ claims that the government seeks to take over our health care system. The specious claims ignore the huge beneficial role government has played, and plays, in improving human health. Our collective good health and longevity derives from a hundred years of federally funded research in public health, human physiology, genetics, surgery, pharmacology, immunology, microbiology, virology and engineering.
Biomedical research at universities, medical schools, hospitals and research laboratories is substantially supported by the government. Few realize that the largest share of funds for training physicians and for postgraduate physician training come directly or indirectly from the government.
Millions of Americans receive health care through Medicare, Medicaid, veteran’s hospitals, Indian Health Service, Public Health Service, the Uniformed Services (Department of Defense) and others. The government subsidizes health care insurance premiums for thousands of United States civil servants. Without government support, our present health care system would implode. In their polemics, some politicians call this government support “socialism” or “socialized medicine.” I call it informed self-interest by a government concerned with the well-being of its citizens.
I practiced government medicine for over 40 years as a United States Air Force pediatrician, biomedical researcher, teacher and administrator. I witnessed massive growth in medical knowledge, the introduction of incredible new technologies and evolution of new medical skills. Hundreds of new drugs, biologics, surgical techniques, vaccines, enhanced genetic knowledge and approaches to improving mental health have revolutionized modern medicine, allowing more accurate diagnosis, real-time health monitoring, and temporary replacement of hearts, lungs and kidneys. Americans now survive cancer more often than ever before.
These new technologies and tools are only possible because the citizens of this country invested in the acquisition of knowledge, tools and services the research enterprise produced. Yet, the United States fails to equitably distribute these advances to all citizens. Health care is rationed based on ability to pay. We often spend large sums to treat patients with complex and life-threatening conditions while basic preventive care is unavailable to many families and children. Unnumbered citizens and families are bankrupted annually by catastrophic illness.
I believe the United States must redress modern health care inequities. There is much debate about how this might be done. It seems to me the fairest solution is a countrywide insurance program, or programs, to provide access to care, education, public health and protection from catastrophic illness for every person and family in the land.
This is not “government takeover.” It is the responsibility of government to provide “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans, not only those who can pay. I urge all to consider voting with an eye to making our wealth of health care resources accessible to all citizens of our great country.
Val G. Hemming is the 2015 recipient of the distinguished alumni award from the University of Utah College of Medicine. He is the emeritus dean of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.