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What are some common arguments for and against socialized healthcare on the left and the right?
March 3, 2012 6:56 PM   Subscribe

What are some common arguments for and against socialized healthcare on the left and the right?

I'm creating a presentation for class on Universal Healthcare, and I need to explain some of the common arguments on the left and the right are. I'm looking for general arguments that are common on the left and right, not specific to any country.

What I have so far:

On the left:
-argues healthcare should be a basic human right
-Government should act to distribute wealth and promote equality
-It is governments responsibility to promote the well being of individuals.

On the right:
-Healthcare and well being should be individual responsibility, not government responsibility
-Social Security defeats market competitiveness
-Universal Healthcare would raise taxes (right-wing generally acts to protect personal property and wealth)

I'm just brainstorming at this point, but what other common arguments am I missing? If I had to boil them down to the three big arguments on the left and the three big arguments on the right, what would they be?
posted by Snorlax to Law & Government (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
More arguments on the left: spending money upfront on medical care saves money in the long run. For example, regarding public funding for birth control: "Guttmacher Institute research finds that every public dollar invested in contraception saves $3.74 in short-term Medicaid expenditures for care related to births from unintended pregnancies. In total, services provided at publicly funded family planning centers saved $5.1 billion in 2008."
posted by scody at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The left also can (and does) argue that universal healthcare is often cheaper, due to both economies of scale and the ability to bargain with drug companies, etc - most first world countries with universal healthcare spend less per person on healthcare than the USA, and have better health statistics (eg longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality).

They also argue that universal healthcare can save money by being more oriented on prevention (doctor's visits rather than emergency rooms), and that improved health leads to more economic prosperity.

On a completely different tack (and this is a bit more country-specific), someone could argue that if one group of people are already guarenteed universal healthcare (like people over-65), then it is simply unfair to discriminate by age. This is a less common arguement, but in the context of the United States and the fact of Medicare for the elderly, it seems a glaringly obvious point.
posted by jb at 7:15 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to clarify your terms in the outset: you can have universal provision independent of a state-run healthcare system. (T.R. Reid's primer is useful here.)

One pragmatic argument on the left is that the developed world can only bear the rising cost of healthcare through pooled risk. A more common general argument is that the delivery of healthcare does not behave like a market -- in vulgar terms, you don't price-check en route to the E.R. -- and that i subjecting it to market mechanisms only creates duplication and inefficiency.

One obvious right-wing argument is that universal provision leads to rationing of care. There are lots of counter-arguments to this (not least that rationing by affordability is still rationing) but it should definitely be in your top three.
posted by holgate at 7:28 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This post has a good overview on the most common arguments about universal healthcare, and here is the series.
posted by ichomp at 7:28 PM on March 3, 2012

Another argument (presumably from the right) is that tax-payer-funded health care promotes the for-profit aspects of the health care "industry" --as opposed to the humanitarian non-profit view as demonstrated for instance in the religious-themed naming of hospitals in the 20th century.

The counter argument (from the left) is that government-sponsored health care promotes technological advancement that might not happen in a hospital-as-charity model.

Finally, to be precise, the OP probably meant to list Medicare/MedicAid instead of Social Security, since the former are for health care versus the latter being general living expenses.
posted by markhu at 7:31 PM on March 3, 2012

Another argument for, is that pretty much every developed country (with the exception of the USA) does it and hasn't looked back.

Studies that compare the developed country that isn't doing it (the USA) with the counties that are, show all of those countries spend less on healthcare yet get better healthcare than the country that doesn't do it.

An argument used both for and against, is that historically, countries can transition TOO socialized medicine, but once citizens get a taste of it, they love it, which in a democracy makes it very difficult to transition FROM socialized medicine. Ie, it's a one way trip. This one-way nature is held by some as a reason to not to take the plunge (because it very likely can't be undone), and by others as clear evidence that it's a good thing to do.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:32 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the right
- allowing government to manage people's healthcare will lead to bureaucrats deciding whether individuals or treatments are 'worth' spending money on, and not letting people choose to spend their own money on treatment. (see also: rationing, Death Panels)
- Government work is always inefficient, so healthcare will cost more and be harder to get
- government is often corrupt, and centralising healthcare means that there will be massive amounts of money often controlled by a single point in the system - this introduces a moral hazard
- Having the government pay for healthcare gives them an excuse to interfere in other life choices, like banning smoking, whereas people should be allowed to make choices that are bad for them.
- people disagree on what healthcare should be provided (e.g abortion) and having the government manage this means that people's taxes will be funding things that they believe are wrong, or that some types of care are not available
posted by jacalata at 7:32 PM on March 3, 2012

Yes, thanks. medicaid not social security.
posted by Snorlax at 7:37 PM on March 3, 2012

actually I should probably rephrase that completely.

"medicare(or just socialized healthcare) would inhibit market competitiveness"
posted by Snorlax at 7:40 PM on March 3, 2012

Just be careful differentiate between the right to universal health care and universal health insurance. The US move is toward universal insurance coverage which is a whole different thing from universal health care.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:55 PM on March 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

You seem to want arguments for and against, from both left and right, but the general tone of answers is left = for and right = against. Do you actually want arguments against from the left or arguments for from the right?
posted by Jehan at 8:14 PM on March 3, 2012

Just the arguments for on the left, and the arguments against on the right.
posted by Snorlax at 8:18 PM on March 3, 2012

The assignment is to contrast conservatives and reform liberals on a specific issues, and for what reasons do they take that stance. Very generalized answers.

For instance, Left is for socialized healthcare because it promotes equality and distribution of wealth.

Or, Right is against socialized healthcare because they believe in personal responsibility, and smaller government.
posted by Snorlax at 8:24 PM on March 3, 2012

Since you've mentioned it twice I would like to point out that "promoting equality and distribution of wealth" is not really a common argument of the left when talking about health care. The lefts healthcare argument has more to do with a perceived cost savings over the long haul rather than notions of "equality and distribution of wealth" which in the context of a healthcare debate are kind of nonsensical and a bit stereotypical.
posted by jnnla at 8:49 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

'Socialized' has a ring of 'socialism'. Most countries that have nationalized health care would not call such a system 'socialized', only the USA does that. In other words, you are using term that has already been loaded with political bias by the right. Another way to describe what you are talking about is 'guaranteed base level of health care for all people'.
posted by Kerasia at 9:47 PM on March 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also, you may find that a great many centrist political parties also support universal health care or universal health insurance. (Canada's Liberal Party, for example, could never be described as "left".)
posted by jb at 10:13 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not sure you'd call this an argument from the left, but if you are pro-entrepreneurship, having health insurance not tied to employment is likely to encourage more folk to go into business for themselves. In fact the same is true for small businesses: they would have less impediment to hiring new employees if health insurance cost didn't factor in.
posted by nat at 11:50 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

rather than notions of "equality and distribution of wealth" which in the context of a healthcare debate are kind of nonsensical and a bit stereotypical.

I strongly disagree. The Beveridge Report is explicitly redistributionist in character -- "abolition of want requires a double re-distribution of income, through social insurance and by family needs" -- and while its scope is much broader, its argument that healthcare should be provided according to need and funded according to means is a core component. You can argue that the redistributive aspects are consequential rather than intentional, but the political underpinning remains the same: that removing cost barriers to healthcare promotes a fairer, more just and more productive society.
posted by holgate at 11:54 PM on March 3, 2012

I must dispute Kerasia's suggestion that most countries use the term 'Nationalized' to refer to their healthcare system. It is socalized healthcare, and that is a socialist notion. Socialism is not a bad word in countries outside the U.S. , because it is not a bad thing, although there are of course people who would argue otherwise even outside the U.S.

I don't want to derail the thread, but I live in a country which has socialized medicine, which was advocated for by a socialist, and which very few people want to dismantle, whether they are socialists or not.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:18 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in a country which has socialized medicine, which was advocated for by a socialist, and which very few people want to dismantle, whether they are socialists or not.

But to Canadians, it's just 'Medicare'.

'Socialized medicine' is primarily an American term; nobody in the UK refers to the NHS that way. There are a couple of reason for that. First, the common identifiers for universal healthcare in other countries are usually along the lines of "Medicare" or "Social Security", and in the US, those terms are taken by different things. Second, it's like the old chestnut, 'what do they call Chinese food in China?' -- if there's a uniform national health system, then there's no need for qualifying terms.
posted by holgate at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2012

You should for sure check out's website on Health Care Reform. Tons of great opinions that run the entire political spectrum, and it's all done in Pro vs. Con format.
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:53 PM on March 4, 2012

I' can't speak for the "right" or the "left". All I can say is that unequivocal data shows that the total cost to the GDP for universal healthcare is far lower than the US model. US style systems demonstrably show far worse outcomes for far more dollars.

That's data, not ideology.
posted by wilful at 4:38 PM on March 4, 2012

The assignment was focused more on how the left and right ideology divide on different issues, and less so the specific details of the issues like cost efficiency and job creation. But still a lot of helpful input here. Thanks
posted by Snorlax at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2012

Some more arguments from the right that have not been mentioned:

Universal healthcare means that everyone will have equal levels of healthcare, equalizing and averaging everyone's level of care such that everyone will get mediocre care with long wait times. Thus, those that were already receiving above-average or excellent care, will notice a significant drop in services, and an increase in crowding.

Another argument is that such systems are not possible without significantly lowering either the coverage of elective procedures, or the lowering of pay for healthcare professionals by capping the amount paid or charged, thus lowering their quality of life.
posted by corb at 7:40 PM on March 5, 2012

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