War or health care?

Last year, President Bush’s chief economic adviser at the time, Lawrence B. Lindsey, estimated that it would cost $100 billion to $200 billion to wage war against Iraq. Lindsey was subsequently sacked by President Bush because Bush’s official line is that this will be a cheap war costing “only” $60 billion. Lindsey’s estimates were more realistic, much higher, and therefore totally unacceptable.

However, the fact is that other credible estimates put the cost at well over $1 trillion if all anticipated costs are added in such as the subsequent rebuilding of the destroyed infrastructure, humanitarian aid, and, most ofall, long-term military occupation. Nevertheless, let’s just consider Mr. Lindsey’s estimate of $200 billion.

So, how much is $200 billion? Two hundred billion written out looks like this: $200,000,000,000. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around just how much money this is until I did a little back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Today in the United States, there are about 45 million (45,000,000) men, women and children who have no health insurance at all. If that $200 billion were equally distributed among the 45 million uninsured, each of them would receive more than $4,400. That’s enough to buy a very good health insurance policy for a full year for an individual. It is more than enough to purchase an extremely good health insurance policy for a family pooling the funds.

In other words, $200 billion exceeds the amount of cash necessary to ensure for an entire year that every family in the United States will have health insurance. That would be an extraordinary alternative use of funds that will otherwise go to wreak havoc and death in the Middle East. But there is an even more exciting possibility.

For-profit health insurance companies siphon off 40-50 percent of all the cash they receive for administrative expenses, advertising, and profits. Moreover, tens of billions of dollars actually paid out to the financially hemorrhaging for-profit medical care system is lost to profits, excessive charges, and unnecessary but profitable medical procedures.

A rationally planned, democratically operated, public, not-for-profit National Health Service could easily provide health care (as opposed to “health insurance”) to a third of all Americans for a full year, for the cost of waging war on Iraq. Moreover, the projected cost of war, rebuilding, and occupation would provide enough resources to establish a National Health Service to protect every resident in the United States for a year.

It appears we have a choice. We can wage an unwarranted and murderous war against the people of Iraq, or we can take the same funds and guarantee that every family in the United States is covered by health insurance. Better yet, we could trade in the invasion and occupation for a National Health Service. Sounds like a “family values” issue to me.

“Words were invented to describe action. Let’s use them for the purpose for which they were invented.”

– V. I. Lenin – The author can be reached at pww@pww.org