Health care markets commodify human life

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, took the stage Feb. 7 to debate health care reform. As a low-income American with a pre-existing condition and minimal access to affordable health care, I was interested in both sides of this debate. With the GOP promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act championed by former President Obama, I have been personally involved in the changes that are yet to come.

Sen. Cruz kicked off the debate by assuring breast cancer survivor Neosho Ponder that she would have access to health care as a patient with a pre-existing condition — a concern that many low-income Americans face with the demise of ACA. Cruz’s argument focused on opening up health care to marketplace regulation and health care purchase across state lines. Cruz heavily criticized ACA for its increases in deductibles, which he often directed toward Sen. Sanders. 

Sanders responded to the criticisms by stating, “Obamacare is a step forward. We have got to go further.” Sanders argued for universal health care or single-payer health care that would be available to all Americans. Throughout the debate, Sanders often asked Cruz if he believed every American had the right to health care, to which Cruz replied that he believes every American has the right to “access to care.”

Reviewing both sides of the health care debate based on economic principles can elucidate the implications of health care reform. Sen. Cruz’s plan to open health care to the free market is supported by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research foundation. The Heritage Foundation points to the similarities found between health care and other competitive industries. The foundation argues for consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs), which are health plans priced based on free-market principles. These plans promote price transparency and decrease the growth of health care spending and mention that such programs have abnormally high costs for emergency care. 

However, the Heritage Foundation forgets that humans and human life are not commodities — free-market health care is susceptible to market failures, just as competitive markets are. However health care market failures cost lives, not commodities. In a poor district with many people who have pre-existing conditions such as obesity and only one health insurance provider willing to serve them, the health care market fails to meet demand with supply. 

And free-market health care is vulnerable to the same imbalances seen in commodity markets: Only certain people can afford the very best. The foundation points out that people who receive little to no cost health care seek out more care than they need and CDHPs prevent this over-consumption. Receiving care for an internally-perceived health issue is not an objective issue that can be empirically derived, but a subjective and personal matter. Viewing health care in this manner implies that health care sought out by disadvantaged Americans are effectively putting a strain on the health care system. Personally, without access to Medicaid, I would have never sought out care for my sleep disorder that has significantly impacted my life and my ability to be a functioning member of society.

As Sanders pointed out, all Americans do have access to health care, just as they have access to buying a million dollar home, however the question is whether all Americans have the means to afford a million dollar home or, more importantly, health care. This subtle change of phrasing brings to question what kind of health care reform will precipitate from the repeal of ACA.

Kandra is a chemistry and economics sophomore from San Antonio.