Sunday, August 2, 2009

Healthcare Reform: Where I stand

I think some of my friends are beginning to wonder why I have resisted blogging about the current healthcare debate in America, given that I have--as they know all too well by now--a lot of opinions on the subject. The truth is I cannot afford to get drawn into this one.

Why? I am way too busy holding down a job and patching up the hole in the roof and generally doing the things necessary to get by, like figuring out how to pay off the mid-five figure medical bill my wife's current illness has run up, so far (a task made even more challenging now that my credit score is getting perilously close to my IQ--and no, I don't think I'm getting smarter as I get older).

This state of affairs is unfortunate in more ways than one (or two or five). For a start, I feel that I have a useful perspective on healthcare reform. I was born and raised by socialized medicine. It served me and my family well. When my father died of cancer at 50, the family's grief and loss was not compounded by fears that his illness would bankrupt us. We never saw a bill. We never paid a penny, except to send flowers to the nurses who cared for him so mercifully in his final hours.

Since moving to America in 1976, I have observed what damage fate can do to a family through accidents and ill health compounded by the absence of any systematic approach to caring for the less fortunate. Yet  during that time the prevailing American attitude to healthcare appeared to be:
"I will take my chances. Whenever I see someone brought low by pain and suffering and medical bills I will pray for them, maybe make a donation, then remind myself "There but for the grace of God go I."

When I decided to make a new life in America I knew that it was a gamble. Work hard and you can do well. You can rise high and fast. The risk is that you can fall even faster, and way further, than in most "wealthy" countries. The only insurance against all eventualities in America is to have a lot of money in the bank, I'd say high eight figures at a minimum.

About 12 years ago I heard a doctor, who was also a U.S. congressman, describe, in a public speech, the prevailing American sentiment on healthcare:
"I've worked hard all my life. I didn't party in high school, I studied. I went through years of grueling college and post-grad education so I could make a good living. I have earned, and I deserve, better healthcare than the guys who come to mow my lawn every week."

As I said at the outset, I cannot spend much time on this. I can't do the lobbying and blogging and networking that I would like to do in order to change, or at least try to change, this point of view. About all I can do is present my own view on healthcare, stated as a general principle :
"The total bill for providing systematic and equal care to all members of society should be born equally by all members of society and paid by all members, according to their means."

I cannot think of a single reason why a caring and compassionate person would argue against that. Dozens of countries have adopted this principle and made it work. I cannot think of a single valid reason why America cannot do the same. That's where I stand on healthcare.

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