(Week 21 - Friday, Jan. 2 / 2009)
A debate has been raging for years as to how to make health care available to all the people of the nation, including the tens-of-millions of uninsured. Virtually everyone agrees that this is a need that should not go unmet for any human being, but finding a way to get it done seems to have eluded us. At one pole of the argument there are those who say that health care is an individual responsibility, the obtaining of medical services should be left up to personal initiative and the workings of the marketplace. Others assert that it is a human right that ought to be written into the Constitution.
Whatever view of a solution one might hold, it will invariably be centered around the question of how and by whom the spiraling "cost" of health care will be paid. Increasingly doubts are expressed as to whether health care for all is ultimately "affordable."
The existence of such doubts indicates a lack of awareness on the part of the citizenry that there is both a micro and macro-economic dimension of money, and of the respective characteristics and virtues of each.
From a micro-economic perspective, there is indeed a financial cost associated with health care because a source of revenue for employing medical resources must be found.
From a macro-economic perspective, however, there is not a financial cost associated with health care; only a question about much money to create and issue to assure that there is enough in circulation to pay for it.
Stated more succinctly, from a micro perspective health care must be paid for, but from the macro health care is monetized. The way this would ideally play out in practice is as that at the macro-economic level, the social order (through the Federal government) would look out over the society and discern what material resources are available to meet the health care needs of its members, and then formulate a picture as to how ideally they might be utilized. The Congress would then pass legislation that instructed the Treasury to issue money in sufficient quantity that this monetization picture could be realized in actuality.
The ability of our society to fully fund health care to whatever extent it decides is optimal within context of the material and human resources available is thus assured. The notion that the citizens of this country cannot "afford" medical services to the limit of the actual means available to provide them is economic nonsense.
In a micro-economic sense, health care carries with it a financial cost. In contrast, on a macro-economic level the activities associated with health care constitute the very basis or "backing" of the money required to fund them. Stated another way, on the micro level, medical care costs, but on the macro it pays for itself. The key, then, is to cover the micro costs from money issued at the macro level.
For example, to whoever is managing a hospital's budget, a doctor seeing a patient appears as a financial cost for which funds must be found. From the national perspective, however, that same doctor and patient coming together appears to the government, not as a "cost" to be paid for, but as economic activity for which money can be issued. Indeed, any bringing together of human need with the resources to meet it is the very basis for issuing money. It need only be done in an amount that is commensurate with the level of activity to be monetized.
In the light of this understanding, the way out of the nation's health care crisis is this: The Congress would authorize the issuance of money on the macro-economic level according to its Constitutional power to "…coin Money (and) regulate the Value thereof" in such quantity that the extent of enterprise that would naturally emerge in the health-care field if money were not a limiting concern could go forward. This could be accomplished in either of two ways.
One is that medical services could be paid for directly by the Federal government out of funds created for that purpose. This would resemble in appearance the mode of funding commonly referred to as "single payer," as often advocated by the liberal perspective in current political discourse.
The other is that an adequacy of funds to pay for health care could be assured indirectly through the Treasury maintaining sufficient money in circulation to finance whatever level of commerce would naturally occur in the economy, health care included. This would put a larger responsibility on people to manage their own medical-related finances, as is favored by the more conservative side of the political spectrum.
In reality elements of both approaches would almost certainly be employed. Regardless of the details of how that might be worked out, the important thing to know is that the availability of enough circulating medium to fully finance heath care at whatever level was deemed by our society to be optimally desirable and materially doable would be assured.
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The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.