Like many I’m following the debate on potential changes in our health care system in United States. I feel strongly about this as I feel all Americans should.
When I’m talking to my son, who is 17, about why this is such a big deal I find it very difficult to convince him that all of these methods for paying for hospitalization are important. Yet I remember distinctly as a man in my 20’s who had just started working for the state as a teacher, actually being amused by the requisite insurance lecturers we had to happen at the beginning of every
Every year there would be innumerable meetings that we were required to attend. We would need to sit in for an hour or so to listen to some insurance representative. This person would tell us what our deductible was depending on the plan we chose, what our benefits would be in the event of some debilitating illness, how much our families would reap if indeed we were killed in a terrible hunting accident. Through these meetings I remember fighting off gallows humor as one grievous possibility after another was itemized by this insurance rep.
The only thing that prevented me from sharing my glib disregard for these meetings was how serious all of the older (and by older I mean late 40’s and 50’s) instructors took all of this. They paid attention with a grim dedication that I took to be part of their teacherly attention to detail. Now I’m in my 40’s and I have seen parents, friends, and siblings bump into his serious health issues I have lost quite a bit of my grin when it comes to details of paying for all kinds of hospitalization and medication.
Talking to my children about what we reference as Disney, circle-of-life issues we will consistently discuss the relationship between prey and predator. That way my young daughters, who are reasonably dismayed by the attack and dismemberment of certain types of animals, might have a more grounded philosophy in their opinions of carnivores. If the National Geographic special that one is watching is about lions, and the Lions are slowly starving to death during a lean season, it’s very easy to feel sorry for the lion. If the special is focused on the tenuous life of an antelope or gazelle then it’s very easy for us to feel sorry for the prey and resent the predator. All of these lectures end with a single question: how many gazelles die of old age? The answer, of course, is none. As they lose a step they get eaten.
So lately I’ve been thinking about health care for those in the United States who need it I have been asking myself the same question. Well, okay, not exactly the same question. But I have been asking how many of us go through life without needing serious medical attention? The answer, none. Just like antelope and gazelle our time is going to come. We will at some point require serious medical care.
This has made me evangelical on the issue of government-funded health care. And before I get very far into this conversation I will point out that some might argue if the government, and when I say government I suppose I should say “government” pays for something, really that means we are paying for something. And I’m okay with that. If a hobo has broken his leg, or a NFL star has broken his leg or of migrant laborer has broken his leg we need to get that looked at. So, yes the government is us. We need to pay for health care.
If every single American requires coverage at some point and logically why would we ask for businesses to underwrite that? As we have all become far too familiar lately, businesses are in the business of making money for stockholders. That’s why they call it business. Unapologetically businesses are concerned about stockholder profit. One can argue that there are green companies out there, that there are rainbow-sunshine factories, that there are really nice businesses, and so on all day long. But when one observes what has taken place over the last year in our country with businesses gambling so that their executives can become fabulously a wealthy, it’s hard to imagine that we live in a country where those same corrupt individuals will try to create a safety net for people who are not advancing their bottom line. And if you’re advancing their bottom line today, you probably won’t be helping very much tomorrow or the day after tomorrow anyway.
Furthermore, insurance companies are businesses themselves. No great insight here. But still, insurance companies exist as independent businesses whose primary goal isn’t even longevity. They exist in a world of American enterprise where short-run profits dominate the mindset of every BMW-driving executive in the company. One can argue that insurance companies are really a delightful concept of shared responsibility and so on. But that Pollyanna perspective on why a business exists does not reflect at all what we know to be true and what we’ve seen over the past year and before.
Insurance companies, while not the devil, are not the devil only because they don’t care. The devil cares. He has an evil laugh, he has an evil grin, and he takes joy in your suffering and pain.
The opposite of caring isn’t cruelty the opposite of caring is the absence of care. Insurance companies don’t. Really. Suffer or be well, a corporation does not have a smile. They don’t have a corporate conscience. They can’t be evil because they are amoral money-making structures who really can’t care if you live or die. Corporations are legal fictions. They can be sued as individuals. They can be constructed. They can merge. They can be taken over. They can go bankrupt. But they don’t exist as people. And, unlike the devil, they don’t give a damn if you suffer and die.
So my first point is that we all need health care. My second point is insurance companies have a mandate that does not address that need. Governments are these odd structures we’ve created to take care of things like building castle walls around the village, paving highways to promote commerce and enterprise, and funding officers to take care of bad guys. I believe we all agree that we want to keep out the Huns, have nice highways, and prevent criminals from raping our wives and stealing our valuables.
But we live in a time where the bad guys don’t do as much damage as STDs, and lung cancer, and carcinoma sarcoma, and the list is truly endless. When health care was about mending broken legs and taking out appendixes, while we were birthing our own babies and burying our own dead it was a different world that we live in now. Now we have this gigantic industry that is profoundly inefficient in this country that we rely on for life and death. It is time for our government, as inept as it may very well be, to create some efficiencies that will allow us to all get effective and low-cost coverage for the host of plagues that will someday chase us down in the field and eat us up. We are all gazelle the lions that will someday catch us aren’t morticians, and they aren’t doctors but they are bill collectors.