Monday, September 14, 2009

Who Cares About Health Care?

Yeah, I know. Like you really need to read something else about health care right now. What more is there to say?

Well, how about this. There is no right to health care. That's it. Now, let me add a few things to that statement, so that you can see what I really mean.

One of the things the good Alasdair McIntyre's book After Virtue managed to instill in me while I was in graduate school was the reality that rights are arbitrary concepts, not intrinsic or even God given. We may wish they were, but the reality of our world is that most things that we call rights today were not only not rights that people had in past centuries but were in fact, explicitly not something people believed they could expect. Life belonged to the master or the Lord or the king. Liberty was something that slaves dreamed of, serfs could not imagine, and free men struggled with unless they had a trade or money. And the pursuit of happiness: forget about it. You were happy to survive.

No, most of the things we call rights only exist for us because we as a society declare them to be rights. And if we look beyond our won country, we can see that we often do not agree about what should be a right. The right to a multi-party system of voting? Ha! The right to keep property you own unless a legal process takes it for public necessity and even then pays fair market value for it? Even the citizens of Connecticut can tell you about that one. The right to an education? Ask girls in small Pakistan villages about that one (This is where I make a cheap plug for Greg Mortensen's book, Three Cups of Tea) .

So, no we do not have a right to health care. People in Canada or France or Switzerland might be able to claim they have a right to it, but we in the States do not. In fact, it is fair to say that we do not yet even believe it should be a right (though there is a growing consensus slowly starting to emerge). If we did, the only discussion we would be having is how to make it happen, not whether we should change what we have or not.

What we have now is a health care system based on capitalism, in which care is a commodity to be purchased. If you have money, you get better care than if you do not. We believe in the freedom to pursue health care, but we do believe in the right to actually have it.

So while we debate whether the Obama plan is a good one, we are missing the point. Until and unless we reach a national consensus that it is a good thing to make sure that we all have health care, we will tinker with a corrupt and over bloated system, in which your doctor has three people working to cover the insurance payment system (three people you are paying for in copayments and premiums), and enormous profits are being made by a very small group of people based on the idea that they deserve to get rich off of you being sick.

Sadly the biggest thing blocking us from doing something about all this is our own fears and selfishness. Let's face it: very few of us are holding up the torch for the insurance companies. Most of us detest these death dealers with as much passion as we love our partners or our favorite sports team. Just look at the faces of people as they go to make a co-payment and you will realize I am telling the truth. We do not go through this system willingly.

But evoke the notion of socialism and you can create hysteria on the level of McCarthyism. Why that works with Christians I do not know. Doesn't Acts describe the early Chrisitans as pooling their resources and giving to each as had need. Now that's socialism! All we want is one standard of care for everyone. Is that too much to ask?

But between the socialist bogeyman and the oft-repeated fear that somehow my personal insurance is going to get worse under health care reform, and we reject it out of hand. Throw in a few non-existent death panels, a near hysterical Sarah Palin (I can see her hospital from my back window), and a slow summer characterized mostly by Wacko Jacko's death, and you have a bit of insanity where we can't even agree in principle that some kind of health care reform is a good thing a right even.

Now, of course we need to continue crafting and refining the appropriate laws. For example, it should be clear that individuals who want to keep their current insurance should be able to. And there are certainly a hundred other things that must be tweaked in the bill. But really, folks, it is time to get this done. We blew it in 1993, and look how long it has taken to get it back on the table. We can't wait that long again.

And yes, McIntyre is right. Thank you Stanley Hauerwas for pointing that out to me. Rights, are, in fact arbitrary and can be changed at any time.

So I am declaring that I believe health care should be a right in this country and be treated as such, not as if it is a luxury, which is what we are doing now. Only when we are willing to make that bold claim will we stop being guided by the bottom line. Only then will the question be "How will we pay for it?", not "Will we pay for it?"

And it some insurance company stops making billions of profit and some other low level workers have go get new jobs (assuming we will, in fact, pull out of this recession), so be it. What we have now provides the worst care in the First World and costs twice as much. Think of how much good work for the environment that money could buy.

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