College students are more likely to favor sweeping healthcare reform than just about any other group. Sure, we quibble over the finer points of a single payer system versus public-private competition. But common to the editorials and classroom rants of our generation are tall tales of human rights and societal obligations. We have a sense that healthcare is intertwined with moral imperatives. We have a sense that “change” is available, that the path toward nationalized healthcare and a healthy nation is known, if only in need of some clearing.
More specifically, it would seem just, logical or plainly nice to have everyone insured against tragedy and illness. To paraphrase the never-reliable Michael Moore: If Canada can do it, so can we! Thus the general needs, steps and tempo for reform seem obvious to us, even though they are anything but to experts in industry and government.
So back to this “sense” we students have about healthcare reform. Where does it come from? We may think it is born of common sense, compassion, diligent study and experience. Doubtless, some among us have fashioned their views out of such sturdy materials. For the rest, however, life in this socialist utopia — our very own city-state set on a hill — has skewed the view of national healthcare reform’s context.
A la Moore, we subconsciously feel — or consciously reason — that if universal healthcare works at Cornell, then it can work in a similar form for the country generally. This is quite a statement! Let’s consider, for a moment, our University as a city-state — the Republic of Cornell.
What are our taxes? Well, tuition of course. Each of us contributes to a centralized bursar authority, not unlike the IRS, by paying according to our means (sort of like the graduated income tax). Regardless of the amount of tuition paid, each of us is entitled to the same services and benefits (rights) as any other.
What is our healthcare legislation? Well, since 1975 there has been a health insurance requirement for all citizens of the Republic of Cornell. In order to enroll in classes, each of us is required to either have prior health insurance (the private option) or obtain reasonably priced student healthcare at $1,590 per year through the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP — the public option). It appears that in the Republic of Cornell we have reasonable, if sometimes steep, taxes AND reliable coverage. The system is working. Our state honors human rights. GO BIG RED!
The apparent ease and justice of the system described above is obvious. Unfortunately, the comparison between the Republic of Cornell and the Federal Government breaks down under scrutiny. Whereas American taxpayers will, in due time, foot 100 percent of the government’s bill, student tuition usually accounts for 65-70 percent of the University’s operating budget. The balance is furnished by charitable donations. Whereas the U.S. population skews old and overweight, students enrolled in SHIP are generally young and healthy. In fact, we are the healthiest slice of American pie you could ever hope to order. What should be obvious is that our inexpensive, efficient system reflects this youth and health; it did not create it, nor does it teach some lesson that mandated coverage can be a fix-all in other, less favorable circumstances.
My point is not to claim that Cornell and the U.S. Government are comparable institutions, then to shatter this claim through disanalogy. I’m no straw man slayer. Neither is my purpose to denigrate the Board of Trustees’ 1975 healthcare mandate. They did their duty. My intent is to wonder out loud whether our experience at Cornell has, on some level, informed our views on what is possible for national reform. If it has, we would do well to realize the danger of relying on and pushing nationally the purported lessons of healthcare policy in our insular, healthy, young and well-educated community. To do so would be to commit the unpardonable sin of thinking locally and acting globally.
I have thus far kept my own “sense” about national healthcare reform out of reach. For those of you who have made it this far into my column and/or care, I’ll get personal in my conclusion and expect a few letters to the editor. As I inch towards graduation, bills and responsibilities await me on the other side. For one, the potential healthcare costs of my newly formed business feel less like fresh justice and more like weights around my ankles. For another, my capacity to give to Cornell and fill that annual 30 percent gap in the operating budget will be constrained to the degree I am compelled to pay for the health of others more than I already do. My sense tells me that as heartless as these objections may seem, my ability to pursue happiness and wealth, then spread it around as I see fit, is more connected to justice than the health of someone other than me and mine. No doubt health is the more basic principle, but health for what? For high taxes and stillborn businesses? No Thank You.
If you disagree — if you can reasonably sweep me and my objections off the path to nationalized healthcare — write in and let me know why and how. I will take up this issue again in weeks to come. For now, you’ve got The Right Stuff.
Andrew Daines is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Right Stuff appears alternate Fridays this semester.