Recently it became clear that certain parties vying for the highest office in the United States feel that health care is something to be earned, not something freely given. Dr. Ron Paul essentially advised that anyone who could not afford care be left to die, and the crowd in the room with him evidently agreed. It has since become clear that this is no hypothetical for the congressman, as his manager in his 2008 campaign, Kent Snyder, died of pneumonia, uninsured. Reportedly a preexisting condition made purchasing insurance too expensive for Snyder.
Dr. Paul’s recent words on the subject:
“That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody…”
He didn’t quite finish his point, as there were too many people applauding.
Let’s see: was Mr. Snyder taking his own risks? To an extent, of course, but the implication is that he would have purchased insurance if he had been able to. He was not able to, because of the premiums — in other words, the health insurance industry had decided that insuring him would not be profitable.
This focus on the bottom line is what bothers me about the idea of health care as industry. A friend of mine was struck and nearly killed by a car some years ago; apparently one of the first people on the scene was a doctor who happened to be passing. That person, and the other doctors who saved my friend’s life and returned her to miraculously good health, are without question heroes. A few seconds of delay could have killed my friend, and I dare say the doctors never gave a moment of thought to whether or not my friend could afford everything they needed to do. That’s not their job. They spring into action because that’s what they are called to do, because they have the power and the duty to preserve life. Doctors, firefighters, and paramedics: these are high in the ranks of the noblest and most heroic people in the world.
To commodify that nobility, to stop these heroes from doing what they want to do, what they need to do, until money changes hands… to keep the suffering and dying from help until the cash register rings… well. That’s not just coercive, that’s abusive. Imagine what we’d say if someone had run up to the doctor helping my friend and grabbed the doctor’s hands; we’d file criminal charges. Yet the health “industry” does exactly that, routinely.
Now, as it happens in an immediate crisis such as the one I’ve described, the doctors do the work regardless of insurance, because doing anything else would indeed be criminal, under a law signed by none other than President Reagan. But then the insurance companies or the hospital hands out a bill that’s astronomically high, and if the patients can’t pay they don’t come back for necessary remedial care, or whatever. Chronic problems, i.e. dying slowly, doesn’t get treated. And forget about preventative care. There are free clinics and hospitals in almost every city of the country, of course, but swamped as they are they bear only a fraction of the health care burden in this country; the majority of us must pay or suffer. By industrializing health, we permit our doctors to do their jobs if someone has been poisoned, but not if the person is merely being poisoned and can’t afford the antidote.
So, where did this idea of health care as transaction come from?
Well, that’s capitalism for you; there can be nothing without payment. Businesses have to make a profit, and hospitals are businesses. No such thing as free lunch; even the free clinics are being paid for by someone, and the ERs, which turn no one away, are publicly funded. So this idea that we have to take care of everyone…
…Now, there’s a fair question. Where did that idea come from? Where did us crazy liberals get this notion that we should help everyone?
Well, maybe this chunk of text might help explain:
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions […] ‘Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.'” (Matthew 10.8)
Huh. Considering that “demons” usually referred to the demons of mental illness, that’s four explicit health-care commands. And the very next instruction is to do it all without accepting so much as a wooden nickel for it.
Now, Christian scripture is not directly relevant to government-run health care, although there are quite a few Republicans who state outright they want the US to be a Christian nation, and a Christian government would therefore have to follow Christian commands like this one. That aside, this passage does imply that Christians should be carrying out Christ’s command. We can’t match his reported healing prowess, especially when it comes to raising the dead, although I still feel that when we pool our resources we can do rather well.* Moreover, this passage means that the idea Dr. Paul has ridiculed was explicitly commanded, if not originated, by the moral teacher he claims to follow. His god, in fact.
Funny, somehow that puts me in mind of another Bible verse, from a little earlier in the book. In fact, there’s a certain resonance with Dr. Paul’s exact words. Let’s see if I can find it…
“Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?'”
Yeah, that sounds about right.
*: I should also note that this can’t be the kind of care where healing is contingent on joining the faith, or even on hearing a sermon, and definitely not the kind of care where two should die rather than one.