Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Heath Care, Individual Rights and the Common Good

I must admit I am mystified by the vehemence and the vitriol that appears to be getting stirred up over the proposal to develop a universal health care system. Providing access to health care for everyone in this country seems like a no-brainer, and something long overdue. It seems to me that the debate should be how we are going to change the current system, not whether or not we should change it. However, I seem to be mystified a great deal these days because I also can’t figure out the logic that would resist a ban on the sales of assault rifles, or limit sales of handguns to one per month or require that people report when a gun is lost or stolen.

However, like the debate in this country over guns, emotions and perceptions rather than logic seem to be at the forefront of the health care debate, which point to some deep tensions and some nefarious manipulation beneath the surface in our culture. I saw a CNN video of a man screaming at a town hall meeting with PA Senator Arlen Specter and he was accusing Specter of taking lobbyist money for supporting Obama’s health care plan, when it’s the lobbyist money that is being poured into fight his plan. I saw another Fox News clip where O’Reilly was criticizing Obama’s body language as “defensive” and “angry” at a town hall meeting when he was joking about his critics. Well duh, you’d be pissed off too, if you were being falsely accused of things you never even dreamed of. All sorts of rumors such as people not getting treatment or being forced to euthanize themselves or their loved ones are being put forth as “truth;” the whole thing is bizarre to me.

At a deeper level I suspect two things are going on. First, the critics of the universal health care proposal seem to be playing up the tension between individual rights and common rights, or what is sometimes called the common good. There are somewhere between 45-50 million people without health insurance today. With rising unemployment, and tighter employer budgets those numbers are only getting higher. There are also millions of people who are “under-insured” meaning the health insurance they have is woefully inadequate. At the same time there are lots of people, like me, whose health insurance is very adequate, and provided in part by my employer. Eight years ago when I had hernia and prostate surgery, I was well cared for. Likewise my wife has had outpatient surgeries twice this year, and has been quite adequately cared for by her employer-provided plan.

Personally, like the majority of Americans we don’t need better health care. However, my individual plan will probably have to change in order to make it possible everyone in this country to enjoy the right and benefit to the health care I enjoy. I might have to pay more, or even have my taxes raised (although this has not been proposed for my tax bracket). On the other hand, my daughter has just graduated from college and was booted off our family plan; she has no health insurance and neither of her employers are providing it; with universal health care, she would not be left exposed. The individual plans available to her are ridiculously expensive and inaccessible to her.

As her father, I am hoping she stays healthy, but am quite aware I may have to “cover” her if something happens. Now I suppose I could protest and say that I have no obligation to my daughter since she is an adult, but what kind of parent would I be? What kind of person would I be? Expand this tension to the entire country and we see this tension between the health care haves and the have-nots.

At play is my individual right to health care versus the common right of all to health care. A focus on common rights (rather than individual rights) says that it is the common right of all people to have access to health care. The pundits will stir up emotion by calling it “socialism” and developing scenarios where people with serious health issues won't be able to see a doctor for months on end, but in the end, it is really about community and common decency. However, this tension plays out in so many ways in our society over things like taxes, driving gas-guzzling versus hybrid cars, and regrettably even so called “gun rights.”

However, nefarious corporate forces seem to be stirring up this tension and creating the kind of chaotic circus atmosphere I saw at the Specter town hall meeting. Recently (July 17) Bill Moyers reported that the health insurance industry, including companies like CIGNA and Aetna are spending a half million dollars a day in advertising, political contributions and lobbyists to defeat the president’s proposed changes to the health care system. We like to think we are a democracy where people get to have their say. However, those with money get access that the rest of us don’t have, and spend millions of dollars to confuse people, so that you get a man screaming at a supporter of health care reform (like Specter) and accusing him of taking lobbyist money, when it is the lobbyists efforts he is trying to overcome. Despite our efforts to expand democracy over the world (however ineffective), we don’t really have a democracy in this country, we have a money-ocracy, where big money supports corporate interests, drowns out common sense and stirs up tensions that should be manageable.

Back in the book of Genesis, Cain asked God if he was his brother’s and sister’s keeper. God’s silence implied that yes, he was, and we are. What good is the most advanced health care system in the world if 50 million plus people can’t access it? How can other countries far less “advanced” than us (we could have a whole discussion about what “advanced” means) have resolved this tension. My individual rights do not eclipse the common right of all to have access to health care. I only hope that common sense can prevail. Given the current confused and politicized state of affairs, that will be a tough sell.


Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head, Drick! At first I didn't understand all of the illogical screaming going on. Then it dawned on me that insurance lobby money must be behind it all...

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