Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I tend to overgeneralize in my arguments. For me, rhetoric takes precedence over technicalities, even if I overlook detail. After all, rhetoric should cut to the heart of a question rather than bog down in mundane specifics. That is not to say I ignore specifics. I simply believe that good rhetoric should address the philosophical core of a question, while detailed analysis should follow in different expressive media.

Our American health care debate arouses my passions. I know full well that my beliefs really don't make sound economic sense. But they come from my conscience. I use a simple line of reasoning to boil down government's relationship to health care: Government is composed of "units," namely human beings. Human beings are mortal creatures who get sick, just as machine parts wear down and fail. Government also depends on healthy people to achieve its functions, whether military, economic, administrative or financial. For that reason, government has an interest in keeping the population relatively healthy. After all, the machine can't function without functioning units, and no one benefits when sick people don't work, or worse, when they die. Dead people pay no taxes. Dead people do not serve in the army. Dead people do not engage in commerce.

Government would be wise to subsidize the health of its citizens so as to preserve the very human units that compose it. Yes, we have a "free market system." But I think government-sponsored health care can coexist with private alternatives. After all, private individuals can always opt for more expensive health coverage if they want more than the government can offer. Still, working people who happen to have a misfortune should not endure a lifetime financial nightmare to compound their physical agony; they should receive free care from the government if they cannot afford otherwise.

Last year the doctor told me I had skin cancer on my right temple. At the time, I was working as a consultant with very basic health coverage. The hospital performed a relatively routine operation to remove the bad tissue. Thankfully, the operation was a success. Afterward, my health plan refused to cover the procedure and I got stuck with a $21,000 bill for an operation that lasted 45 minutes under local anaesthesia. For months I haggled with insensitive hospital "billing staff" who kept repeating: "So how would you like to pay for this? So how would you like to pay for this?" I told them I didn't have remotely close to that amount saved. They responded: "So how would you like to pay for this?" Eventually I sent enough letters and raised enough of a stink to convince the right hospital bureaucrats that I could not pay the bill, and they wrote it off.

I went through a bureaucratic crucible for a simple operation. Just imagine what other people go through for more serious procedures. It is not an answer to say "buy better health coverage." Even employed people don't get the same coverage they used to, and unemployed people can't afford $450 a month for decent coverage. My mother is a cancer survivor and widow who pays $700 a month for extremely basic coverage. Thankfully she has a little money saved from my Dad's life insurance policy, but if she had a serious illness, she'd be out on the street. As my old evidence professor used to say: "Many Americans are just one illness away from bankruptcy."

This is a shameful state of affairs, and no talk about economic incentives or doctor profitability will shake my beliefs on it. Doctors should not be in the medical profession because they want Mercedes-Benz cars and luxury condos. They should be in the profession because they want to ease others' pain and cure diseases. Government has an interest in those goals, too, and if private people can't cough up the cash to get it done, then the Government should. We scold Russia for its autocratic ways, but the Russian Constitution makes health care an individual right. Even Nazi Germany provided health care to its citizens. We manage to pay incredible amounts every month to sustain a pointless war in Iraq. Why can't government increase funding for health care? I think more Americans would prefer to know that they will not go bankrupt from illness than to blindly fight insurgents in a war that has nothing to do with the United States. If taxes must increase, let them. At least we will get something for our money, rather than the bodies of slain soldiers.

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