Here in the United States, we are once again conducting a life and death screaming match about a symptom of a “disease.” We have performed this opus periodically for the last 100 years. And we will likely perform it well into the next century.
Each time, the underlying disease is the same. And each time, we scream about a different symptom of the disease. Because we are too timid, too courteous, too lazy, too selfish, or too invested in treating the symptom to even recognize the disease. The disease is health.
Sounds funny, doesn’t it. I’ll bet you thought health was the absence of disease. Well, you are correct. And for 100 years we have been treating symptoms without acknowledging the fundamental question about the disease.
If we’re not lucky enough to be blessed with good health, do we have a right to have our health restored, regardless of our station in life? Or is health something we must buy, according to our ability to pay, and if we can’t pay, we can’t have health? Should health correlate with wealth? Should the wealthy be healthy, and the unlucky poor, unhealthy?
Now, we all know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Restoring health has associated costs. All the necessary goods and services don’t just magically appear. Doctors and nurses should be paid. Companies that make medical supplies and equipment should be paid. The costs must be paid somehow. IMHO, this is the source of the “as healthy as you can afford” side of the debate. And we were fine with this arrangement up until the late 1800’s.
Since the turn of the 20th century mankind has been on a slow crawl away from the “every man for himself, survival of the fittest, only the strong survive” mentality of the past towards a more inclusive and compassionate mindset of the future. We’ve begun to develop a bit of a collective “feeling” that each human life is intrinsically worthwhile, and so therefore we should do what we can to preserve and improve those lives.
Not everyone is along for the ride. There are some who still cling to the past. I remember one politician saying we should bring back bartering. Take the doctor a chicken for treatment. But those that aren’t changing are becoming a smaller and smaller minority. IMHO, this is the driving force behind the “everyone has a right to health” side of this argument.
As free-market capitalism often does, some company figured out a way to profit from paying for these costs, while at the same time giving at least some semblance that we had a “right to health.” They called it health insurance. And boy did they profit.
And as is also often the case, when one company sees another company making money, the first company gets jealous and just has to get in on the act. It worked great for a while, but fast forward 100 years and we’re up to our eyeballs in health insurance providers. And each one is chasing an ever decreasing piece of the pie. So they must decrease what they give us or increase what they charge us to continue to profit enough for their liking.
Add in drug manufacturers, hospital chains, specialty doctors, the “alive at all costs” attitude many have developed, and so on, and you can see why health care costs have been spiraling exponentially out of control for some time. And if we keep treating the symptoms there’s no end in sight.
Now I’ll admit that this is a simplistic treatment of a complex problem. But we have dabbled at the edges for far too long without confronting the root question. Do we feel everyone has the right to be healthy?
If the answer is yes, we should concentrate on how to accomplish this and ignore the screaming from those who seek to maintain the status quo for selfish reasons. Yes, there are entire industries that might need to be “retooled.” Yes, it might be temporarily disruptive. And yes, in the end, some currently lucrative ventures may cease to exist. But it’s the only way to truly move forward.
If the answer is no, then we should throw away all the progress we’ve made in the last 100 years, throw caution to the wind, throw open the doors to unfettered capitalism, and throw Grandma, Grandpa and poor Aunt Betty to the wolves. Hope they saved up a little money, because they’re going to need it where we’re going.
I, for one, hope and pray that the answer would be yes. But really, I’m not anticipating having to dust off my little Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster prayer book anytime soon. Because I know we’re going to keep treating the symptom. Just like always.