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A not-so-liberal reason for universal health care

January 16, 2005

I’m not a very consistent liberal.  Despite voting for both Clinton and Kerry, and opposing the war in Iraq, I disappoint my friends by shopping at Wal-Mart and opposing gun control.  (There are lots of other examples but I don’t want to get off-track here.)  Universal health care is one of those issues – I’m for it, but not for the usual reason.  Leaving aside the curious notion of a “right” to health care, I prefer a greedy, capitalistic “what’s in it for me” approach.  We’re spending more on health care than anyone else and getting less for it.  In short, we’re being ripped off.

Go read this entry at Stupid Evil Bastard: “The problem of 45 million uninsured Americans hits home.  Hard.  It seems that one of Les’ cousins died young because of pneumonia – because she didn’t have health insurance.  She thought she had the flu and couldn’t justify the expense of a doctor visit …

I hope you will go read the entire article with the comments.  Here’s an excerpt:

…I called my mother back to see if there were any more details and that’s when I learned how Debbie had died. It wasn’t a bad car accident, as I had assumed, or a long term known condition such as a weak heart or cancer. Debbie was killed by pneumonia. That’s right. An easily treatable disease that is normally semi-serious to people our age only if left untreated. Debbie had been sick for awhile with what she believed to be the flu, but she never saw a doctor for it because her family didn’t have health insurance and she couldn’t afford to pay for the office visit herself. Her husband is working a newspaper delivery route that doesn’t offer benefits and I believe she was unemployed. Her kids were at home with her when she died. They called 911 first and then they called Diane who tried to talk them through CPR until the paramedics arrived, but it was to no avail. Debbie was gone before the paramedics ever walked through the door. Apparently Debbie never recognized just how ill she was as she never asked her mother for help. Diane says had she realized how sick her daughter was she would have given her the money to go to the doctor, but Debbie assured her she was OK. She wasn’t OK and she ended up drowning in her bed because she couldn’t afford an office visit.

When I heard this I was stunned and angry. My heart breaks for Diane as I can only imagine the pain of second-guessing yourself over the death of your child. So too for Debbie’s husband and kids. I barely know these people so my sense of loss wasn’t immediate with the first phone message, but it hit home once I learned the details of what happened. This sort of story probably happens many times every day in a nation with 45 million people living without health insurance and that’s just insane…

One commenter thought the anecdote was not important to policy questions and that Les should be more “objective.” If you’re unmoved by that tragedy, you just don’t have a heart.  To me, being an American involves thinking about the best way to achieve “a more perfect union” and promoting domestic tranquility.  In other words, it does make sense to keep unnecessary holes from being torn in the fabric of society.  What’s the cost of this kind of travesty?  Here’s a partial text of the comment I left on the thread:
…As for the proported debacle of government-led (“It would be a disaster”) health care, you have to ask, has it been a disaster in other countries where they do it?  No?  You mean those pinko countries are spending less per capita on health care than we are and living longer in the bargain? Exactly.  We are spending more and not getting our money’s worth.

Health care for all serves the taxpayer’s purely selfish interest.  It gives doctors a chance to spot early warning signs, so it often prevents unnecessary major medical expense.  It keeps people working (and thus paying taxes) because it helps them manage chronic diseases better.

As for the danger of an inefficient bureaucracy, what we have in this country is a whole bunch of inefficient buraucracies that can’t communicate with each other: health care providers and insurance companies.  The waste – the egregious diversion of money that is supposed to be for health care – is unconscionable…
I included two personal examples of why bad health insurance (and its more-evil twin, no health insurance) aren’t just a hazard of poverty, they’re a hazard to the economy.  We all pay when people working low-end jobs don’t have adequate health care – believe it!

The objection might be made that the rich will always have better access to health care and I have no problem with that.  If the national policy didn’t cover heart transplants but did cover cholesterol screening, that would be OK. 

Please, go read the thread.  You’re welcome to be against universal health care if you like but please understand there are other reasons for it than just bigger government. 

UPDATE: 17 January ‘05, check out this article, “The nail hit him in the head” over on Capitalist Pig vs. Socialist Swine.

… “This is the second one we’ve seen in this hospital where the person was injured by the nail gun and didn’t actually realize the nail had been imbedded in their skull,” neurosurgeon Sean Markey told KUSA-TV in Denver. “But it’s a pretty rare injury.”

Lawler was recovering Sunday in the hospital, where he was expected to spend several more days.

Despite his lack of medical insurance and hospital bills between $80,000 and $100,000, Katerina Lawler said her husband is in good spirits…

Categories: Issues, News
  1. Brandi
    January 17, 2005 at 00:45 | #1

    As an individual without health care this really hits home, and I totally agree. I wouldn’t expect a national policy to cover huge medical issues for the most part but a simple doctors visit because you are suffering from pneumonia, pink eye, ingrown toe nail even,  would offer peace of mind. Recently I was sick and missed ten days of work, let me tell you it takes a lot for me to miss work. In fact six years ago I was discharged from the ICU and then returned to work the next day, my mother raised me with a strong work ethic, I am not a slacker. Not only do I work at Gold’s but I also work at St. Joe’s, (and FT student) both part time hence no benefits. If I could have seen a doctor this time I bet that time would have been at least cut in half. There is no reason a country such as ours can’t provide it’s citizens with such a basic human need. Implement a good plan and it will work for the common good.

  2. January 20, 2005 at 09:40 | #2

    You touched on an important point that is a factor in class conflict – many people assume that people who aren’t rich are lazy.  NOT!

    If anything we Americans – rich or poor – tend to work too hard, even harder than the Japanese.

  3. Kathy
    January 22, 2005 at 16:52 | #3

    You think the reasoning here offers a “not-so-liberal reason for universal health care…” ?!?

    I’m surprised and puzzled.

    I’m not sure what you think liberal reasons would be, but I became a liberal at an early age because liberals seemed to be the people who thought the government should be able to help when people were suffering needlessly.

    Liberals hear a story like this and think, “Yes, everywhere else in the industrialized world progressive government policies protect people better than this.” My sense of conservatives is that they hear the same story and reason either that the woman didn’t deserve health care or that the free market would take care of it if we just allowed the rich to get even richer.

    Posted by DOF on 01/16 at 03:23 PM

  4. January 22, 2005 at 18:57 | #4

    Kathy: “I’m not sure what you think liberal reasons would be…”

    It’s hard for me to come up with exact definitions of conservative and liberal, since both terms have been smacked around by their opponents a lot.

    Most of the liberal arguments for universal health care I’ve heard are something like: “There is a fundamental right to health care, we should take care of our neighbors, and it’s the government’s responsibility to prevent tragedy.”  I agree with some of that, but not all.

    Conservatives seem to be saying – well, you pretty much nailed it.  But I think that’s short-sighted conservatism. 

    “Profit” is music to my ears – it usually connotes lots of satisfied customers choosing your product or service over the other guys’.  That’s a functioning market and it’s very good at providing cars, beans, clothes, etc. 

    But in the medical industry, we have “market failure,” where profit means a whole lot of people had no choice but to use your services even though they aren’t necessarily satisfied.  Here in the US we’re spending far more on health care than the socialist countries and getting less for it.

    I think a healthy population is a vital component of economic opportunity so there’s a good, business-related, bottom-line reason for universal health care.  Just for one example, it would make it a heck of a lot easier to start small businesses if people didn’t have to worry about how they’d pay for medical care.  That creates jobs.

    Seems to me the ancillary economic cost of a lot of uninsured people has got to be higher than anyone realizes.  We pay for roads, schools, water systems, dams, military, etc. to promote the general welfare because the market won’t provide them.  Seems like universal health care is a good fit into that same model.

    If liberals also want to think we have a fundamental “right” to health care, it’s OK with me, I guess – we still want the same thing.  At minimum, no one dying because they can’t afford to risk the cost of a doctor visit.

  5. Kathy
    January 22, 2005 at 21:35 | #5

    Your line of thought is what many people describe as ‘corporate liberalism’ (though it seems to me that you also let some humanitarian indignation show through.) You justify some amount of social welfare policy because it makes the wheels turn smoothly for business. This sort of thinking dominated U.S. government for a few decades after World War II. Today we have all-out damn-the-hindmost plunder, and I certainly agree that’s it’s short-sighted.

  6. January 22, 2005 at 22:05 | #6

    You’re probably right about my reasons.  I have in mind Rinehold Neibuhr’s thesis that corporations cannot be moral; they can only be amoral.  So to be frank, if we can spin things so it’s in the corporations’ interest to do the moral thing, it will accomplish what humanitarian concern has not.

    Heinlein put it another way: “Never appeal to the other man’s better nature: he may not have one.”

    Dale Carnegie put it yet another way: everything we do is in some way in our perceived self-interest.

    The liberal arguments for universal health care are (most of them) valid but they do not move conservatives. I am trying to demonstrate here that it is also possible to make a conservative argument as well.

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