Health Care Sound and Fury: A Lament

There’s no sense talking to you. It’s just like talking to me, is a line from a Bob Dylan song in the 1960’s.  It was a time of great division over the Vietnam War. There were large marches and demonstrations. Some students were even killed for protesting.  Our health care debate has been every bit as vitriolic since at least Teddy Roosevelt in the 1920’s and the threat of ‘socialized’ medicine. Dylan’s line remains true today.

Health care reform has been demonized as “socialized” or “government run” in one form or another since then.  FDR kept it out of the New Deal for fear his whole program would fail. Campaigns were even waged against Nixon’s call for health reform—a modest reform through employers where most people had health insurance.

We attack taxes to pay for health care. We make rules and set financial limits such as degrees of poverty.  We even take partial truths for examples, latch on to them and hold them up as yet another reason that disasters await if everyone gets health care.

Yes, our allies Canada, Australia, NATO and other Western European nations and even Japan have different tax supported health care systems. Unlike ours they don’t have:

  • TV pleas to raise money for uninsured children or children with cancer
  • Uninsured children in families that are not poor enough for Medicaid
  • Fundraising events for ‘meals on wheels’ for seniors and other senior services
  •  Walk-a thons for research and services from cancer to multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s
  • Pre-existing conditions  clauses
  • Homeless Veterans and TV pleas for wounded Veterans
  • People who are uninsured who cannot afford doctor visits, hearing aids,  wheelchairs or prescription drugs
  • People who make choices between rent, food and prescription drugs, including insulin
  • “Donut” hole for senior’s prescription coverage
  • Special community health events where doctors and dentists donate their time for the uninsured. A recent event in Seattle lasted nearly three days. Nearly four thousand people came, some waiting even overnight for health or dental services. Organizers prided themselves on the event’s success. They should be heartily thanked.  It should, however, be a national shame that we have such events

Western European countries began national insurance for different reasons:

  • Germany introduced national health care before WWI to have healthy productive workers
  •  France first focused on healthy women and babies after WWI because nearly 2/3 of French young men were killed in that war. A national system came after WWII
  • Britain offered national insurance after WWll recognizing their many losses and sacrifices during the war
  • Our health care revolves around employers and individuals and “categories” and specific services for certain groups—seniors, children, blind, disabled, and to some extent some poor who meet the “percent of poverty” guidelines

Is it such a great burden to care for each other? Other countries don’t determine eligibility by degrees of poverty. They don’t have special, ‘deserving’ categories such as seniors, children, disabled and the mentally ill.  They don’t deny coverage to coal miners or auto or timber workers just because their industry changed. Young adults have coverage whether or not they live with their parents or the job they have.

Yet we draw lines about who is deserving or undeserving. Who draws that line? What price do they pay for drawing that line?

We are no better than the medieval monks who debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Instead we debate who is and who is not deserving and turn our backs on far too many who don’t fit our age, disability and income categories.  We simply fail our most vulnerable and ourselves.

We drown in our politics and slogans and pretend no one is hurt–at our moral peril.   Is this what we want our legacy to be? That the “Greatest Nation on Earth” failed too many, including many of those who made this great nation work?

Hemingway wrote:  “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”  We ask instead: “Don’t ask who gets health insurance. It’s not for the poor, the sick, too many children and seniors and others without a category or money.”  And, perhaps it’s not for thee.

Kathleen O’Connor © March 9, 2017

About Kathleen

Kathleen O’Connor: 30+ year health care consumer advocate, non-profit executive and author. For more information about Kathleen, please see "About" on the main content bar above.
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3 Responses to Health Care Sound and Fury: A Lament

  1. Mary Koch says:

    Amen. Amen. Amen.

  2. John C. says:

    Spot on Kathleen – it makes one wonder what it will take to fix our broken system. Two steps forward and one step back makes for slow progress . . .

  3. David Merz says:

    Too bad the current system is so profitable for so many office people. Other developed nations keep the money going to the actual care. Enrollment in a basic package of appropriate services is actually cheaper if it is UNIVERSAL, CONTINUOUS, and if not single payer at least efficiently financed through a UNIFORM FEE SCHEDULE, set at the federal or provincial/state level. We can begin the repairs by taking employers out of the enrollment business, and demanding that government lead in establishing a sustainable, dispersed system of care services with uniform negotiated rates. No more networks, no more deductables. One species can get by with one plan. We need simplicity and transparency now, not more tweaks in an overly complex collection of coverage schemes.

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