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Writer's Block: Health Care

Is health care a right or a privilege to you?

Health care ought to be a right.

But let's ask what "rights" are. They're the consensus of people who share a society. The only genuinely inalienable right is the pursuit of happiness. The right to life or liberty can be abridged pretty easily by other people. You can shoot someone or lock them up on any number of reasons and get away with it depending on the situation -- but as long as there's life, a person can pursue happiness whether they actually succeed at it or not.

Rights are what people who are trying to keep the state from being institutionalized highway robbery demand as our part of the deal of supporting that state. The only thing that actually gives any government the right to take a large chunk of your money every year is that you give them that right by sending in the check. The fact is, they have a large army to show up and break your knees or kill you or jail you if you refuse their demands. People get the rights that they are willing to fight for. And so health care should be a right. Let's get something practical for putting in all that tax money and in the case of the military, risking their lives for it. Military and ex-military get good health care -- but civilians should too.

Most of the industrialized countries in the world do provide health care as part of the services people pay for with their taxes. It gets taken for granted the same way that fire and police services are taken for granted as being part of a civilized society. If we do get a national health system, its quality will be measured against others in existence along with its cost-effectiveness. This country seems to be run on greed and provides massive corporate welfare to giant fortunes, enormous companies who would like nothing better than to get out of supporting any public service they have to -- some don't pay any taxes at all. Forcing employees to use the "company store" when it comes to insurance makes employees more blackmailable and tractable.

Private insurance exists for profit, and it's a scam gambling on your health. The house always wins. The companies will do everything they can to stall payments or turn down payments if something does happen and a person needs health care. Given that, it's inevitable that those who need health care most are going to be the ones clogging emergency rooms with serious non emergency medical needs because the ER is often the only source of care available. With malpractice insurance sometimes costing doctors upwards of $250,000 a year, most can't afford to decide on conscience to go open a free clinic somewhere for the poor. They need to earn that much and they wind up working for medical companies and subjected to their limits in treatment -- all calculated to maximize profit rather than improve care.

Why it is a good idea for the government to have health care for all members is not just to restore some of the nation's horrible reputation in the rest of the world, though that would be reason enough. My country is backwards and racist, it has many bad habits, among them trooping the very large army around the world protecting the interests of big companies or adding to them with conquest.

There are other, practical reasons. If you have massive numbers of poor people getting sick and dying, a lot of them may have or pass on contagious disease to the folks that have the money for health care. So there's the centers for disease control and mandated quarantines and so forth that do nothing to actually treat the people with the problem but may at least try to protect everyone else from sick people. Beyond that, desperate people do desperate things. People will reasonably fight to survive or for their loved ones to survive. It would clear up the emergency services if clinics treated people before they got so bad they needed to use the ER or if they use the ER as a clinic. It costs less to treat conditions the sooner they are diagnosed. It costs less in lost hours of work too. Disabled people like myself may be able to become self supporting given good medical care and the aids needed to get around the disability.

Why it is dangerous to a society to have internal atrocities and let large numbers of people die horribly is that it can start riots. The number of people profiting is very few. People who are starving or suffering malnutrition and losing loved ones to medical conditions are angry and they reach a point where they have nothing to lose. Fascism, communism, any totalitarian extremes promise to solve the problem that pushes itself up to the top of their priorities and violence starts looking like a reasonable alternative.

But if you want an American reason to have universal health care, go to those three "inalieable" rights. Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. "Life" is a biggie there even if it can be alienated just by shooting someone or shutting the door when they need medical help. This country values equality of opportunity -- but nature is unequal and people wind up with all kinds of medical problems that kill, maim and throw them right out of the running for any opportunities.

No one argues any more that the fire department is a luxury or that each person should be responsible for protecting their home from fire. Yet a century ago they did, with exactly the arguments used against health care today. Now, the speed, efficiency and success of its fire department is one of the measures people use to judge a town or city's quality. There are two big areas that need services as routinely high quality as fire services: health care and individual economic disaster.

The reasons these things are linked for me is that health care costs cause personal economic disaster for anyone who has major health problems in their family. A reasonable income ceases to be that and the costs of health care put the family into irretrievable levels of debt, while the health problem itself may cascade into more expensive problems due to lack of available treatment for its consequences. Recently, even the bankruptcy laws have been gutted so when the end of the line is reached, there is no relief and no surcease from debt beyond the average working person's ability to pay -- and insurance costs that skyrocket beyond what the individual can pay.

Yet at the same time, companies the scale of Exxon get all sorts of privileges when it comes to taxes. The majority of the wealth in this country winds up in the hands of the top 1% and that distorts everything -- and they get the biggest tax breaks. I read an interesting article in the science section on Yahoo where some sociologists measured communities by a Robin Hood index -- the proportion between the richest members and the poorest in the community. A high RH index leads to poor services and major civic problems all down the line. Too many people wind up unable to gain the necessities of life -- and those do include health care, crime rises because desperate people do desperate things and the quality of life goes down even for the fortunate few.

Do something about it. Pressure for having a decent national health care service.
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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 23rd, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
Oh purr, thanks! Much appreciated!
Sep. 23rd, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
I've been inclined to think of the question from a different angle. That is, why do we bother to have public hospital emergency rooms?

Because the way it's been working out in practice, public ERs are our universal health care system. And we all know how broken it is as one. We can surely come up with something better than that.
Sep. 23rd, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
We ought to come up with something better than that, so the heart attacks and broken limbs and car accidents and shootings can still get ER treatment. That's all there is in so many places. And not all hospitals do it either.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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