Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Healthcare

When I created this blog, it was never with the intention to write anything political, impossible though that might be, since the original Latin word that "politics" comes from means "people" (you Latin majors out there can correct me if I'm wrong). But with all the vitriol I've heard about health care reform in this country--all the lies, the shouting, the pettiness, the fear--I've decided to write a blog mid-week to address this issue, not so much as to trumpet my opinion to you, but to share with you my observations about this debate, and what it reveals about Americans today.

First of all, every poll I've seen shows that Americans support health care reform. As this Time article points out, it's the details that people worry about. Those details are what the health care debate should be focused on, not these shouting matches at Town Hall meetings. And the details that people worry about should be ones in the actual bills, or ones that they think should be in the bills. Not "death boards." Actually, don't insurers already use them, when they decide not to cover a life saving procedure because it's too expensive?

Another problem I have is with people who label the public option in health care reform "socialism," and therefore, of course, automatically disqualify it as something that the U.S. should do. First of all, the word "society" is in "socialism," which implies people working together, much like "commune" or "community" is buried in the word "communism." Plus, socialism is an economic system, like capitalism. Like capitalism, it has its excesses, but it doesn't equal totalitarianism, which is a political system, and which would be anathema to the United States.

Of course, that's not their point. Their point is that public health care, health care for all, is somehow something the U.S. government should not be involved in (even though they already are--Medicare and Medicaid, anyone?). It should be left to private businesses. And that's the problem. The mindset among some people is that health care is not a right. Or rather, health insurance is not a right, because, hey, you can make money off of it, so leave it to the free market. Who cares if millions are uninsured? Who cares if we spend much more money on health care than other countries, and yet rank lower than thirty-six of them for quality of care? On the other hand, if you consider health care to be a right of every citizen (after all, healthy citizens are productive citizens, so it benefits the government to make sure they can remain healthy), then why shouldn't the government make sure that everyone is covered? I think there should be a public option to go with private insurers. Private insurers claim a national health insurance system will drive them out of business. That's interesting, because in Japan, national health insurance and private insurance plans exist side-by-side. So basically, if private insurers can't survive with a public option, they must be pretty incompetent.

One other thing that bothers me about this health care debate is people who are in it for themselves. They don't want to have to pay slightly more for health care costs, even if it's for the good of all. I can understand this from people who are squeezed for cash, or who live on a fixed income, but if you can afford to pay a little more, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you want to help others have what you have? Is it because they may not be able to pay, so it looks like they're getting a free ride? We wouldn't be having this argument if it was about children...oh wait. Every year in my town we have a group of people who complain about tax increases, and in years when the budget doesn't pass the first time, the school budgets get cut, as well as other services. Seems children aren't important, either.

I guess my big problem doesn't have to do with the yelling that's going on in Town Hall meetings, or citizens basing their opinions on lies concocted by people who should know better. My big problem is with a culture that believes that everyone should fend for themselves, instead of doing everything possible to lift all Americans together. We may have individual freedoms, but we are connected as a society, and as a society, we have obligations to each other. We say we are one nation when pledging allegiance to the flag, but do we actually believe it? We should be doing what is best for all, for in the end, it benefits us individually, as well. In the Declaration of Independence, it declares we have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," among others. Is it so much of a stretch, then, to believe that the quality of life is just as important as the length, than we not only have the right to live, but to live well?

Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, invented such useful items such as bifocals and the Franklin stove, yet he never patented his creations. His reason? He wrote, "That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously" (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin). So should we help each other, freely and generously.

Note: The Preamble to the Constitution mentions "promoting the common welfare" as a reason for "We the People" establishing our Constitution. Makes it sound like health care is a right, doesn't it?


  1. At the risk of missing the larger message here, there may be another reason Franklin never patented any of his marvelous creations: He died three months before the first patent was ever granted.

  2. Here's what the autobiography states:

    "In order of time, I should have mentioned before that having, in 1742, invented an open stove for the better warming of rooms, and at the same time saving fuel, as the fresh air admitted was warmed in entering, I made a present of the model to Mr. Robert Grace, one of my early friends, who, having an ironfurnace, found the casting of the plates for these stoves a profitable thing, as they were growing in demand. To promote that demand, I wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled "An Account of the new-invented Pennsylvania Fireplaces; wherein their Construction and Manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warning Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated," etc. This pamphlet had a good effect. Governor Thomas was so pleased with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declined it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."

    So maybe these patents didn't give property rights to an invention's creator, but they could be used to give exclusive rights for the selling of such products. As for the bigger picture, the point is that Franklin chose not to profit off of his inventions (which he would have done as sole vendor for the stove), but to allow others to profit from their use. If the same model were used for health care, all of us would be insured.

  3. I recall that Thoreau was similarly unimpressed with the idea of a patent. Once he created a pencil that's very similar to the model we used today. On seeing how superior it was to the pencils of the day, his friend Emerson asked him why he didn't get a patent for it so he could mass produce it. Thoreau's response was pretty typical: "Why would I want to keep doing the same thing over and over again?"


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