Monday, August 3, 2009

Healthcare: It's not about ME!

That we have a problem with healthcare is now broadly accepted.  Nonetheless, polls suggest that most of
America’s covered are satisfied with their own insurance.  This finding mirrors the seeming
inconsistency that, while Congress is held in basement level esteem, the
majority of us are satisfied with our own representation.  Go figure.  We seem to place supreme value on incumbency, personal or
societal, which is why we are so stubbornly resistant, if not to the idea, then
to the reality of change.  As the
August recess looms, the President’s healthcare imitative will be put to the
test, and the outcome is by no means certain.  Indeed those satisfaction numbers could spell real trouble,
especially when coupled with the finding by ABC that over 80% of respondents
worry that their own cost might rise or that their own coverage diminish.  That 80% plus number is most telling,
not only for the healthcare debate, but also for what it says about our society
as a whole.   To put mildly,
we have become an increasingly selfish people.  It's all about ME.  What’s worse is that not only do we want what we have, and
more of it; we begrudge others their share.  That’s why the disparity between the “have’s” and the “have
not’s” is growing at an alarming rate.

It may well be that whatever changes are made in healthcare will have
some (likely marginal) impact on those of us who are covered.  But this effort is not about me.  It’s about those Americans who don’t
have insurance.  In that sense,
even polling the insured is a mere,  if not willful, distraction because what we have is not at
issue, at least in a fundamental sense. 
 Again, it’s not about me,
but about my neighbor.  Perhaps the
Golden Rule is universal to all faiths but it has become a largely meaningless
platitude.  We pay it pious lip
service, but for all practical purposes, to paraphrase the famous Mr. Butler, we regularly
tell our neighbors, “frankly my dears, we don’t give a damn.”

We may berate the greed on Wall Street, which on its level is
unconscionable, but relatively speaking most of us do live in glass
houses.  So our politicians are
attuned (also selfishly) to be more concerned about the proverbial “me”, the modestly
or greatly advantaged, than the mostly or completly disadvantaged.  One of the newest ploys is to suggest
reform will lead to euthanasia, while the reality is that the current system of
large-scale depravation is all too often an act of murder.  People are getting sicker and dying
prematurely because they have no insurance or are massively underinsured, not
the reverse.

The ugly truth of this debate is that the opponents of healthcare
expansion and reform at best are deaf and heartless and at worst are nothing
other than malicious.  They may not
live physically in a gated community but seem to blot out the sounds
and sights of depravation.  It’s bad
enough when individuals are selfish; it’s catastrophic when leaders act with
nothing less than criminal neglect. 
I have vivid memories of heated debates about impending socialized
medicine.  That was when Truman was
President so let’s not talk about rushing into reform some six decades later.  Medicare, a controversial program when
it was finally passed was not, as some obstructionists argued at the time, the
end of the world, quite the contrary. It’s callous that opponents of healthcare reform
point to the Post Office and not it for proof that government programs don’t
work.  Have any of them bothered to
ask their parents?

The President argues the economic imperative of healthcare
reform.  I can’t disagree and in
fact wonder, for example, what would have happened to our auto industry had
universal healthcare been put in place back in the Truman years.  Leaving aside their misguided product decisions,
would their manufacturing have been uncompetitive absent the burden of private
healthcare?  People say they are
confused about the many proposals on the table.  My cynical side would say, calculated confusion, but for the
moment forget about economics and confusion.  The real question before us is not about this or that approach.
 It’s about us – who we have
become, who we are and who we will be.

Fixing healthcare is a matter of values, yes family values.  It is about how and if we care about
and for each other.   It is a
test of character, our national and personal character.  In many ways, I think it is a watershed
issue, a test of our viability. 
It’s one that we will fail only at our collective peril.

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