Don’t get me wrong: like most entrepreneurs around the world, I am no fan of the government meddling in my affairs. But as an Australian watching what’s going on in Washington, D.C., I struggle to see why so many U.S. business owners consider President Obama’s healthcare plan to be an economy killer. From where I sit, it strikes me as precisely the opposite--a potentially extraordinary economic stimulus.
Australia introduced its universal healthcare system, called Medicare, in 1975. It certainly had a few false starts and generated its own fair share of angst. But some 40 years later, and with the benefit of reflection, it has created more business opportunities than it destroyed.
Today if any political party suggested removing Medicare, there would be angry protesters in the streets--and Australia’s business owners would be right there with them.
No question: Government-funded healthcare is expensive. But it pays to consider some of the benefits as well as costs. Some of those benefits are direct; others are less obvious and harder to measure, but no less valuable to the economy.
In Australia, Medicare has created opportunities for countless new businesses in the medical field--such as 24-hour medical clinics that are funded by patients using the Medicare system, and mobile-doctor services that do housecalls, again 24 hours a day. These services are everywhere now, in big cities and regional centers. And they are big business.
What’s more, by removing the financial barrier to care, more people seek medical advice. That’s created demand for medical devices, supplements, and other health-related products--in other words, a lot more entrepreneurial opportunities.
Another interesting benefit of our Medicare system is that it gives entrepreneurs, and would-be entrepreneurs, a much greater sense of security. In the U.S., if you’re not properly covered, a severe illness or medical emergency can result in huge medical bills, and often bankruptcy. For good reason, this leads would-be entrepreneurs to hold on to their jobs rather than strike out on their own.
But that’s not a problem in Australia. Knowing that your family will be covered no matter what happens makes the leap from employee to business owner a lot easier. In fact, the risk of losing a business due to illness or accident is not a topic of discussion here. The idea that outsized medical bills could push you into bankruptcy never comes into play.
The way I see it, the more barriers or risks that are removed for entrepreneurs, the more likely they are to start businesses--and this has to be a good thing for any economy.
I'm not saying that Australia’s Medicare system is perfect. It isn't. We constantly complain about it, and it's always being tweaked. But it has certainly not been an economic disaster. And my sense is that it won't be in America, either.