I’m frustrated. And overwhelmed. And saddened. So, I’ve decided to do a little something about it. While on vacation I attempted to get caught up with the health care reform maelstrom. (Hey! I just used ‘maelstrom’ in a sentence!) It’s all a bunch of knots. I’ve griped, and bitched, and dreamed and schemed. Then I decided I should send a letter to my congresspersons. Because that’s what good citizens do, right? So here is my letter:
Dear [important elected official]
Regarding the current healthcare reform debate, I would like to contribute my voice as one of your constituents. This is an issue about which I have grown increasingly concerned, and wholeheartedly believe that we should be moving towards a single-payer system. We remain the only “developed” country that lacks anything resembling single-payer healthcare, with the exception of Holland and Switzerland (which offer limited and highly regulated private-insurance options). Unfortunately the nature of the conversation and the trajectory of the debates has moved away from anything resembling humane, intelligent conversation. The scare tactics and smear campaigns on one side, and the lack of a backbone on the other have left us with a bill that could very well leave us in a worse place than where we started.
We have all but abandoned the hope of achieving a single-payer system in the near future, and now that the public option appears to be compromised, it seems to me that we are conceding to fear and to the big businesses of insurance companies and pharmaceutical sales. The conversation and the rhetoric, to my interpretation, have rarely, if ever, been about healthcare—actually providing necessary medical care for our citizens. Instead it has been about profit and costs and privilege. In a country where an estimated 46 million of our citizens are uninsured and over a million households file for bankruptcy each year, estimates range between 60-80% of those filed because of the overwhelming burden of health care costs (nearly 80% of those were insured at the time of filing for bankruptcy), it is unforgivable that our concern for healthcare begins with bottom-line and profit margins, and not with a concern for the health and well-being of our citizens. I believe that it is a moral obligation to provide the coverage needed for each person in the country. That insurance companies, who exist to make a profit, drive the market and make decisions about who is covered, and what sorts of medical care they are “eligible” to receive, is embarrassing, and the logic of it is lost on me.
It seems to me we’ve lost our humanity. We’ve lost our moral center. It is heart-breaking that profits and market competition are more important than people, preventive care and saving lives. Doctors ought to get paid according to merit (much like Obama’s controversial stance on merit-based pay for teachers). If they are catching cancer early, if they are helping patients live longer, healthier lives, if they are able to help patients quit smoking, lose weight, they ought to be rewarded for that. Their motivation ought to be providing health care, not making or saving money. Instead, doctors are at the mercy of insurance companies, often finding themselves in the position of denying care to patients because someone in an office somewhere has deemed that person unworthy of the procedures they need. And we are worried about death panels in the future—seems to me they already exist de facto for most Americans that cannot afford top-of-the-line healthcare.
For me, what it comes down to is a matter of common morality, protecting human rights, and preserving human dignity. Are we going to rise to the occasion and act to provide life to millions of people who cannot afford it themselves? Will we recognize the basic dignity preserved when people don’t have to compromise the security of home and other basic needs to ensure medical care? I urge you to be a voice for the voiceless. Please bring the humanity back into the debate on healthcare. This isn’t about profits—it’s about people. At the very least, advocate for a public option, though I would hope we could move to a single payer system.
Thank you for your attention and for your public service.
To continue with the theme, regarding something else I read over vacation:
In the book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner travels the world in search of secrets to happiness. What sorts of cultural, political, social climates contributes to a populations overall happiness? He visits the remote country of Bhutan—a nation where the government charges tourists a per diem fee, which includes a mandatory tour guide. In Bhutan, the government measures not only Gross Domestic Product, but Gross National Happiness. Gross National Happiness isn’t a mere marketing tool or generic smiley-face image; GNH is a collective endeavor. Compare this to our default measurement of America’s success and progress, the Gross Domestic Product: the sum of goods and services produced. There is much, however, that the GDP either glosses over or leaves our completely. Consider this: “The sale of an assault rifle and the sale of an antibiotic both contribute equally to the national tally (assuming the sales price is the same). It’s as if we tracked our caloric intake but cared not a whit what kind of calories we consumed.” The effect of GDP is that it often forgets the people that both contribute to production and consume the benefits. Weiner quotes Robert Kennedy to elaborate on this point. “GDP doesn’t register ‘the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate.’ GDP measures everything… ‘except that which makes life worthwhile.’” This is the crux of what’s gone terribly awry in the healthcare debate debacle. We have become so concerned with preserving for-profit competition among companies, and fixated on the bottom line that we are forgetting the people. We are forgetting the struggle and the dignity lost among our citizens, particularly among the working poor—those too rich to afford Medicare, but too poor to afford adequate insurance. We are forgetting that what universal healthcare (however you define that—public option, single payer, etc.) would mean is handing back humanity to our citizens, effectively bestowing and guarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
*for the record, I did research the statistics.