Thursday, March 29, 2012

To Your Health

There are really two principles at stake in the whole health care debacle. One is that at this point in the history of civilization, health care really is a human right. It’s simply not possible to live a normal life (by most definitions of normal) without access to health care. Kids need vaccinations. Everyone needs check-ups, and diseases need to be treated, especially contagious ones. In fact, outbreaks and epidemics alone are enough reason to insist on health care for everyone.

Ok, the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t consider health care so important, but look what they had. Back then treatment meant getting leeches applied or having a limb amputated. Your chances of survival with or without a doctor’s care were probably about even. But now, it’s really not a lifestyle choice. It’s a matter of life and death.

Now the other principle goes to the very core of what a society is. A society is not just a bunch of people with similar zip codes. Civilization really means “city dwellers.” It started when people began living in big communities. Instead of everyone’s having to catch or grow his or her own food, people could specialize. Some could farm. Some could hunt. And some could be telemarketers. But the ones who farmed and hunted could raise enough food for everyone, and the telemarketers could buy food with the money they defrauded from the farmers and hunters. That’s how society works.

So there are some things that are good for society, and get paid for with public funds. Roads are good for society. Police and firefighters are good for society. And universal health care is good for society.

That’s the big misunderstanding. My health insurance benefits me. Yours benefits you. But universal health care benefits society at large, just like roads, police, firefighters, etc. Conversely, uninsured people, whether by choice or need, hurt society. In addition to potentially spreading disease and weakening the labor force, they cost money. Plain and simple.

So how do we pay for this universal coverage? Maybe having the government impose fines for uninsured people is not the best approach. Single payer (government) insurance is a political hot potato. Justice Sotomayor spoke of having a health care tax, and giving exemptions to people who have health insurance. That should certainly pass Constitutional muster. But it’s basically the same thing as the individual mandate in the current law.

Then again, the French have universal health care, and they still say “Santé” when they drink.

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