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In Praise of Mao

ARTICLE BY LENA LESZINSKY

China’s health care at the moment: it’s not really a hot topic at the center of political debates. However, it should be—because it relates directly to one of the largest parts of America’s GDP: health care spending and services, and whether health care should be more or less privatized. As shown by the recent election, the Electoral College has shown that a majority of states do not support government-regulated health care such as the Affordable Care Act, properly instituted in 2014. However, statistics show that such programs enabling nationwide health care are beneficial to nationwide health care.

A government-regulated system, such as the one used in China in the mid-1900s, increases access and quality of health care. For example, there were lower infant mortality rates, lower per capita spending on health services, and more efficient and widespread distribution of care. This period had little to no health care privatization. Afterwards, there was a period of privatization that saw lower use of care services, higher spending per capita on care, and less access to care. In other words, the more capitalism was used in health care, the more money was wasted on services.

But how does this transfer to America? Well, the period of American health care before the Affordable Care Act was very similar to Chinese privatized health care. So far, conclusions can’t be drawn about the effectiveness of the ACA on reforming the system, but the inference can be drawn that instituting government regulation on the American market health care system would increase the quality and access to care.

Additionally, a government-regulated system would unify health care markets and standards across the nation. With privatized health care, plans vary across providers, and no price standardization can occur, naturally making the cheapest plans too basic to allow for actual coverage. The most expensive plans are the ones that cover the most medical expenses. With a communally-based system, there would be countrywide standards that equalized the quality of care for all citizens, between the super-rich and the ultra-poor.

However, some studies show that distribution of care was not always the most efficient in these systems. Some Chinese scholars even argue that the system is inherently inefficient, especially as it existed in Mao’s China, with a billion people to care for and only a limited amount of doctors, not assigned to individual patients via a competitive insurance industry. This is mirrored in Canadian complaints of long waits for access to specialists.

But this counterpoint lacks a definitive proposition different from the previously proposed system of government-regulated health care, even while recognizing that the old system is wrong. Imperfect distribution methods are present in the private system as well, and determining the best distribution is up to experts. To refuse to change a system, to its possible improvement, is to refuse to seek for options to solve a problem, even while acknowledging that the current system is wrong. If the American government keeps moving towards a government-regulated health care system, then it can find ways to improve upon flawed models in both the present and the past.

But to do so requires an open-mindedness and analyzation of the facts, rather than reliance on old stereotypes of a big, slow government that never gets anything done. And to do so, we as a society have to pay close attention to government-regulated health care systems around the world, from both the past and the present, and to see how to apply their successes to the American system. Because, after all, it’s better to learn from others’ mistakes than to make them yourself—especially when millions of lives are at stake.

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