Health care is the topic of the day. People seem to agree that 46 million people don't have any at all. People also tend to forget that having health insurance is not necessarily protection against going into bankruptcy. For that matter, having health insurance for many does not entail they will get better care than those without, or any care at all. It is generally agreed, however, that Americans spend more and get less per dollar than their counterparts in other developed nations. That doesn't worry Robert Samuelson, however. Nor does he bother to mention that astounding fact. He writes:
How much healthier today's uninsured would be with that coverage is unclear. They already receive health care — $116 billion worth in 2008, estimates Families USA, an advocacy group. Some is paid by the uninsured themselves (37 percent), some by government and charities (26 percent). The remaining "uncompensated care" is either absorbed by doctors and hospitals or shifted to higher private insurance premiums. Some uninsured would benefit from coverage, but others wouldn't. Either they're healthy (40 percent are between ages 18 and 34) or would get ineffective care.
The claim–how much healthier would the uninsured be–is quickly replaced by financial observations on how much care they do receive and who pays (and, oddly, whether this care would be any good). That, I think, is misleading. Certainly, uninsured teenagers who never have accidents and don't get sick wouldn't benefit at all from health care, but we're not talking about health care, we're talking about health insurance. Not having health insurance is different from not having access to health care. Most Americans, as John Stossel once pointed out (see "Is America Still Number One?"–the answer, would you believe it, was "yes"), have access to the best health care in the world (!!!). Too bad, however, the question regarded whether they or anyone could pay for it. To that, the answer is "obviously not."
Aside from the red-herring like shift in topics, Samuelson abuses the quantifier "some." Indeed, some–those who don't get hurt–would not benefit from coverage. For the past three years I was one who benefited not from coverage. Yet about a week ago, fate had it that I would begin to need to benefit. You never really know when that will be. A friend of mine in graduate school was young, healthy and uninsured. A headache one day cost him 25,000 dollars.