Healthcare reform has always been a talking point in the US elections for many decades because of its issues about costs and coverage. The United States spends twice the amount on healthcare compared to other relatively wealthy nations, but at the same time, the US also gets far fewer – nearly fifty percent less- physician visits per capita in comparison to comparable nations (Kamal & Cox, 2018). Essentially, Americans visits their doctors less compared to other wealthy nations, yet they somehow end up spending more money for healthcare. Further implications of the rising cost of care are more than 20 million Americans who cannot afford healthcare at all (Berchick, 2018). For these reasons, a proposal to reform or improve healthcare is presented in every general election.
The public dissatisfaction with US healthcare creates an opportunity for politicians to make a change and present aggressive reforms. One such example was in the recent 2016 US presidential elections and again in the 2019 Presidential bid, when US Senator Bernie Sanders championed the idea of a Single-Payer Universal Healthcare system as an answer to the healthcare problem. This type of universal healthcare system is a service provided by a public agency that provides health insurance to all American citizens under one insurance plan (Christopher, 2016). This will be publicly funded by the government and taxes that are based on income or ability to pay (Physicians for a National Health Program [PNHP], n.d). Universal healthcare, as presented by their proponents such as Democrats and CNN, is an answer to the expensive US healthcare system and to the millions of American who are uninsured. Opponents such as Republicans and Fox News, on the other hand, are not convinced on the effectiveness of Universal Healthcare as shown by nations that practice it. While Universal Healthcare proposes an ideal solution to the growing US healthcare problem, certain economic and political uncertainties allows for rhetoric to cast doubt on the system which bogs down discourse and progress towards an agreement or other meaningful solutions.
Gatekeepers who advocate the Universal healthcare system use rhetorical devices to persuade readers with unproven statements. US Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democrat from Vermont, used proof surrogate when he stated, “Here is the simple truth: the function of our current healthcare system is not to provide quality, cost-effective care for all. Rather, it is to create a complicated, wasteful and bureaucratic system designed to make many hundreds of billions a year in profits for insurance companies, drug companies and medical equipment suppliers” (Sanders, 2017, p. 9). This is an example of a proof surrogate because he made a claim without providing substantial evidence. With the same statement, Sanders created an appeal to anger and made the readers feel as if they were being deceived by the current government’s healthcare system and implied that it is something that needs to be changed. Furthermore, the statement also appeals to American’s general distrust of the government, which can amplify the emotions of the reader. Emotional appeals are powerful devices used to shock readers and elicit hasty and, often, ill informed conclusions. As a critical thinker, one must read things through objective lens to avoid falling to our own biases and emotions that can twist our interpretation of information.
Readers that are influenced by their emotions are primed for persuasion. Using fallacies are another way of persuading readers and can be harder to detect when the mind is clouded by emotions. With this said, Bernie Sanders continued and stated “The insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the medical equipment manufacturers, Wall Street, and everyone else who profits off of our current system will spend hundreds of millions of dollars telling us how terrible that idea is,” (Sanders, 2017, p. 14). The gatekeeper uses a type of ad hominem fallacy called Circumstantial Ad Hominem, which is a personal attack suggesting a character is biased or predisposed to a particular stance based on their circumstances. In this case, the gatekeeper attacks the reputation of groups who are against Universal Healthcare. He stated that said groups had vested interest in preserving the current system because they make profits off it, therefore their argument against Universal Healthcare must be invalid or untruthful because it implies that their sole reason to fight Universal Healthcare is to preserve their monetary gain. This kind of fallacy destroys the objectivity and, therefore, the credibility of a character making them and their arguments less believable.
Another method that gatekeepers use to persuade readers is by deliberately withholding information or presenting partial information to the audience. To further emphasize the importance of a Single Payer version of Universal Healthcare, the gatekeeper used a false dilemma. According to the Physicians for a National Health program, “Single-payer financing, i.e. the elimination of the private-insurer middlemen and their replacement by a single, streamlined, nonprofit agency that pays all medical bills, is the only way to recapture this wasted money” (PNHP, n.d). This is an example of a false dilemma because the presenter ignores other alternatives and suggests that single-payer financing is the only way to recover and save tax payer money. Using this fallacy creates an illusion that there is only this one or the other. In this case, the information may lead people to believe that tax payer dollars can either continue getting wasted in the current system or be saved and used efficiently in a single-payer version of Universal healthcare.
Gatekeepers against the idea of a Single-payer universal healthcare understand its flaws and weaknesses and make sure they use it to reduce the idea’s credibility. The New York Post wrote an article that scrutinizes Sanders’ Universal Healthcare plan saying, “And all of this assumes that BernieCare will reduce health care costs by as much as 47 percent, according to independent estimates. How? Well, Sanders is far less clear on that than he is on how he’ll increase taxes. His plan contains exactly one paragraph on cost control, including a promise that “government will finally be able to stand up to drug companies.” (Tanner, 2016, p. 9). The excerpt shows an example of downplaying, which is a rhetorical device that is used to reduce the significance of someone or something. In this case, the author tries to reduce the significance of Bernie Sanders’ Universal Healthcare by pointing out the lack of depth in his plans, implying that his argument for Universal Healthcare is weak and lacks credibility because it contains only one paragraph to explain a crucial part of implementing the proposed system. This kind of rhetoric is meant to create doubts in readers’ minds because it puts the strength and credibility of someone’s argument in question.
Another understanding that Gatekeepers have utilized is knowing how to appeal to their demographic. Americans have always had a mostly negative view of socialism with only 35% expressing a positive view about it in comparison to the 60% that have a positive image about Capitalism (Newport, 2016). Gatekeepers against Universal Healthcare utilize this American bias by pandering to their negative views about socialism and connecting it to Universal Healthcare. Donald J. Trump, the current US president, plays to their bias when he stated, “If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America. Government-run health care is just the beginning. Democrats are also pushing massive government control of education, private-sector businesses and other major sectors of the U.S. economy.” (Trump, 2018, p. 13). This is a prime example of a slippery slope fallacy because the claim was that government-run health care a.k.a Universal Healthcare is only the “beginning” and that it would lead to more and more things without providing substantial proof or evidence that such events will actually occur. Despite presenting no evidence, the fallacy places fear and doubt in the reader’s mind just because of the fact that it is presented as a possibility. Additionally, the whole argument is consistent with the idea of giving more power to the government, which is a key tenet of socialism and is an idea that contradicts American values. In this case, the use of fallacies in conjunction with the appeal to a cultural bias improves the persuasiveness of the overall argument making readers more inclined to believe Donald Trump’s claim.
Ethos is a strong element used in persuasive arguments. Sometimes it is the basis of an argument, manipulating emotions to lead readers to conclusions that support the gatekeeper’s agenda. For example, a Fox news article stated “If you need kidney dialysis and you are in your 60s, you will never get to the front of the line; you will be left to die.” (Forbes, 2019, p. 10) This fallacy is an example of a scare tactic designed to draw out emotions such as outrage and fear. Even though the statement or claim maybe false, the purpose of it is to paint a dire picture of what Americans may go through under a Universal Healthcare system. Using fallacies to create a picture of favorable or unfavorable outcome is a powerful rhetorical device to influence readers. As critical thinkers, we must be able to see through rhetoric to avoid making misinformed conclusions.
As a critical thinker, one must always look at information with an objective and open mind, especially in today’s political climate. Gatekeepers of both sides use subtle, yet powerful rhetoric and fallacies that are presented as facts to garner support or create opposition towards a Single-payer universal healthcare system. While rhetoric does improve the persuasiveness of information or data, it puts the sincerity and credibility of an argument in question. A critical thinker must be able to ask and answer the question “What does this rhetoric want me to feel?” because this shows awareness about what someone or something is telling us how to feel, which is an important element in making an objective decision.
Berchick, E. (2018, September 12). Who Are the Uninsured? Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/09/who-are-the-uninsured.html
Christopher, A. S. (2016, June 13). Single payer healthcare: Pluses, minuses, and what it means for you. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/single-payer-healthcare-pluses-minuses-means-201606279835
Forbes, S. (2019, February 26). Steve Forbes: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, others think socialism is the future – they’re dead wrong. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/steve-forbes-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-others-think-socialism-is-the-future-theyre-dead-wrong
Kamal, R., & Cox, C. (2018, May 8). How do healthcare prices and use in the U.S. compare to other countries? Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/how-do-healthcare-prices-and-use-in-the-u-s-compare-to-other-countries/#item-start
Newport, F. (2016, May 06). Americans’ Views of Socialism, Capitalism Are Little Changed. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://news.gallup.com/poll/191354/americans-views-socialism-capitalism-little-changed.aspx
Sanders, B. (2017, August 14). Most Americans want universal healthcare. What are we waiting for? | Bernie Sanders. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/14/healthcare-a-human-right-bernie-sanders-single-payer-system
Single-Payer National Health Insurance. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pnhp.org/what-is-single-payer/policy-details/
Tanner, M. (2016, February 01). Bernie and the high cost of ‘free’ health care. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://nypost.com/2016/01/31/bernie-and-the-high-cost-of-free-health-care/
Trump, D. J. (2018, October 12). Donald Trump: Democrats ‘Medicare for All’ plan will demolish promises to seniors. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/10/donald-trump-democrats-open-borders-medicare-all-single-payer-column/1560533002/