I have a job with a large union and an excellent insurance policy, and a few years ago when I suffered a heart attack I could not have asked for more from my insurance company. A woman I care about deeply, however, is faced today with all the worst aspects of what is wrong with our insurance system, a system that so many people (but not the majority) have been defending. She has long been paying the insufferably high premiums that are demanded by insurance companies of individual customers who don’t work in large corporations or have union jobs. Now, after an injury on the job has forced her to leave work and to endlessly haggle with the Workers Compensation system (yes, governmental bureaucracies are despicable, but no more despicable – and possibly less so – than private insurance company bureaucracies), she is desperately fighting a losing battle to continue paying these premiums and keep her coverage. This is important because, like many people, she suffers from a number of long term health issues: some of which are covered, and several of which (just another sign of the callous, anti-citizen, system we currently have) are not. One of these uncovered conditions, if left untreated, will very likely shorten her life according to her doctor. And it infuriates me that some people so thoughtlessly defend the current situation by noting that emergency rooms cannot turn anyone away, as if my friend’s inability to receive proper care now, when disaster is preventable, is somehow justified because when she is on death’s door the ER will then have to accept her.
So I am grateful that the House democrats finally did what they were elected to do and initiated reform of this financially untenable and morally repugnant system. It’s hardly a perfect solution, and it will cause many problems and require lots of tweaking. But it’s a start, and it signals that no longer will the problem be ignored. And no, it does not signal “the end of liberty”, it does not mean “the socialists are taking over”, or any such drivel. Nikita Krushchev is not going to rise from the grave and bury us. This is no more a threat to our American principles of liberty and freedom than was the Medicare bill, when the same silly claims and fear-mongering were utilized by opponents. That was when a young Ronald Reagan warned us that the end was near, and one day we’d be telling our grandchildren that ‘we remember when America was free!’ This was a crock then and it’s a crock now. To say otherwise is to insult the strength and resiliency of this nation.
I’m not an advocate of the government running our lives, inflicting itself into our bedrooms, taxing us to death, or burdening business with so many forms, taxes, and administrative requirements, that creativity and entrepreneurship are not worth the effort or the risk. But government does have obligations, and it is absurd to fight against every act of the state based on some ill-considered ‘principle’. The Constitution, which these people are always invoking in their zeal, was created for the stated purpose of “promoting the general welfare”. Americans have a right to be safe from foreign invasion, so the government raises taxes and uses them to support a military. Americans have the right to be safe in their persons and in their homes, so the state provides police protection. If someone was breaking into my home and threatening my family, I would not want to worry that my last premium for police protection was late and my ‘policy’ had lapsed, or I’d only been able to afford a policy with the police department three towns away, or perhaps my policy didn’t cover break-ins at this particular time of day. The system we have, in which police protection is the equal right of everyone – with no premiums or copays, with no investors worrying about the bottom line – is not socialism, it is not the end of freedom. Capitalism and competition are terrific concepts, but their unwarranted intrusion into the health of American citizens is a disaster. Competition in the selling of auto parts is one thing, but competition in the delivery of health care to a dying child is something else altogether. For our government to assume the obligation of insuring health care for all Americans, like the obligation for providing police protection, is an excellent example of exactly what a civilized government should be doing.
So actually, I’m not a big fan of this bill. I’m glad they’ve taken a stand, I’m glad they didn’t let a childishly obstructive Republican party damage the Obama administration out of petty political spite. (They were in power for eight years and did nothing. Suddenly, “no one is listening” to all their “solutions”). But I’m not a big fan of anything short of what the Congress really ought to have done – pass a sweeping national health insurance plan. And eventually, like so many other modern countries, we will have a national plan that guarantees everyone the best health care available. Winston Churchill once wryly observed, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing – as soon as they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” So we will spend more years tweaking bills like this one, passing amendments, arguing and revising – and more of our loved ones will suffer and die too young, But sooner or later we will exhaust all these “other possibilities” and do the right thing.
And when that finally happens, all the money that is being wasted on the current system will be saved. All the unnecessary suffering caused by the current system will stop. Men and women will enter the healing professions because they wish to do something noble and useful for humanity, not because it’s a good way to get rich. Doctors who would prefer to work with patients on the front line will not have to ‘specialize’ instead because it’s the only way to pay the bills (yes, of course we need tort reform, but this is a separate piece of the puzzle, not the major solution). Would-be entrepreneurs will not have to give up their dreams because they can’t leave their current jobs and be left with poor, or no, health coverage. People on welfare, who would like to move ahead, will not have to remain stuck in the system because the entry-level job they’d like to take does not provide their families the minimum safety-net of Medicaid. Yes, taxes will go up, but this expenditure will be more than compensated for by the savings we all will accrue due to no more premiums, deductibles, or co-pays. And the moral duty to aid sick people will never again have to be supplanted by a fiduciary duty to corporate investors. My friend’s health, happiness, and life, are not commodities that should be the concern of someone else’s wallet.