Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Health Care Reform

Recently, the older brother of a friend of mine died after heart surgery. With the exception of a heart condition, he was fit, ate right, and didn't smoke. He was in his late 50's, and for some time his doctor had advised him to get surgery to correct his condition. But he waited until it was really too late, hoping to hold out until he was old enough to qualify for Medicare to cover the cost of the operation. When he finally collapsed, and was too weak to weather the surgery. He died waiting to grow old enough to have coverage. So, he died years early and with a hospital bill. Nice.

As a self-employed person who was a relatively successful artist, and quite a successful landlord/property owner, he was never able to afford good insurance coverage. With a pre-existing condition, I doubt he would have been covered for what he really needed if he had gotten a policy.

What bothers me is that we Americans all know someone who has made a hard medical decision because of the cost of care and difficulties with insurance. Yet many of us choose to do nothing to fix a system so broken that we need only to look at our friends, families, or neighbors to see those victimized by the status quo.

It's the added government bureaucracy...It's the cost...It's the infringement on our freedoms,
people whine. They are wrong, however for several reasons:

First, if people are worried about a bureaucracy, it seems to me that having one government agency (which could be incorporated with Medicare) overseeing a public option, would have a much smaller bureaucracy than the multiple insurance companies and state insurance commissioners and their own bureaucracies which oversee the current system.

Second, the cost would not necessarily go up. Due to large-scale rate negotiations, increased competition, fewer emergency room visits, and more preventative care, the public option might well cost less, and cause those of us paying high premiums for private coverage to see our rates fall.

Third, and most absurd, are the arguments about socialism and fascism (they really need to make up their minds which one of these it is) going hand-in-hand with increased government involvement in health care. I notice that the people making these arguments never take the opportunity to discuss in any detail Medicare, Social Security (other than to say it's failing - even as they cash their checks), the postal service, our armed forces, fire departments, police departments, you get the idea...

The truth is that the government is deeply involved in all of our lives, usually for the collective good. To get to an anti-public health care rally, I'm guessing that most of the attendees rode over publicly-funded streets, lanes, and highways; drove in vehicles that were filled with government-mandated safety features; breathed air kept relatively clean... you guessed it, by government mandated clean-air regulation. I've noticed that there has been a bit of discussion about the postal service's rates rising as it is going broke. My response would be that a) other major parcel services have also raised their rates during this same period, and b) due to email/internet communications (oh, dear, another government creation), that we have collectively saved a bundle on postage over the past decade using this new form of seriously cheap communication. Government is not a business. Government, when it is working correctly, is an entity that should exist to enhance and protect our lives. And on most levels, it does a very good job.

Ultimately, health care is something so basic and so necessary that government should ensure that we all have access to it whether or not it is publicly-funded for those of us who haven't reached our sixties (where the current government program starts). Frankly, I'm much less concerned about a few illegal aliens getting a medical freebie than I am about my friends, family, and neighbors having access to quality affordable care. If we'd had this option even a year ago, maybe my friend's brother would still be alive.

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