What big ideas can help America solve its most pressing problems? In an ongoing project, Yahoo News is soliciting creative, outside-the-box and possibly controversial (but still credible) solutions. Here's one about health care.
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COMMENTARY |Americans have never had better access to health care and yet most Americans cannot afford health care, including life-saving drugs. According to a recent Gallup poll, 32 percent of Americans could not afford recommended health care. An estimated 50 million Americans cannot afford health insurance, notes CBS News.
One way to help reduce suffering and raise revenue is to legalize all drugs and make all of them available over the counter (OTC.) By getting rid of the need for prescriptions, this frees up patients and doctors' time from making appointments solely to renew prescriptions. The prescription system only serves to help fatten the wallets of big pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies. There is no practical advantage for the patient.
Wouldn't There Be More ODs?
People already overdose on legal substances that kill them - aspirin, acetaminophen, alcohol, tobacco, cars, knives, ropes and guns. People find a way to kill themselves with just about anything if they have no reason to live. Being forced to live with chronic illness can certainly lead to a suicide attempt. It can also lead to mass murders, such as the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where the shooter Adam Lanza apparently suffered from mental illness and got access to his mother's gun instead of therapy.
With all drugs legal and available OTC, the powers of capitalism come into play. Instead of one company holding the monopoly on a potentially lifesaving drug, all companies will be scrambling for competitive prices, sales and coupons. If a pharmaceutical company takes a dip in profits, it can always get a government bailout. If banks and car makers warrant government bailouts, then certainly so can the pharmaceutical industry.
Savings In Many Areas
Getting rid of prescriptions and legalizing all drugs would also free up a lot of manpower in the legal and law enforcement businesses. In America, there is an arrest every 19 seconds for possession of a controlled substance. That drives a massive amount of manpower to catching and prosecuting these arrests. America has the world's largest prison population. Just decriminalizing marijuana will empty a lot of cells.
Harvard economist Jeff Miron argues that American governments would save $85 billion per year if drugs were legalized. That money could go back into strengthening Medicaid and Medicare.
Legalizing all drugs and getting rid of the need for prescriptions will be a quick fix for America's expensive health care system. Drugs and medications are no different from tobacco, alcohol, guns or cars in terms of danger potential. If America's leaders are adamant about continuing the drug war and keeping Big Pharma happy, then they are not serious about health care reform.