A million dollars a page. So went the headline over at Drudge. This was the conservative web warrior’s way of dismissing the 1,000-page-plus health care proposal prepared by Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
It’s a classic gambit of the now utterly dispiriting debate surrounding the reform of health care in this country.
So shrill! So hateful! So selfish! What this argument — it’s too expensive; why should I have to pay for somebody else’s care? — seems to forget is that health care is much like so many other essential government services.
Don’t like socialized systems? How ’bout we do away with fire departments, roads, defense, police, etc. Few — even among the fiercest libertarians — are arguing for that.
And what’s maddening is that so often the most angry voices against a public option for health care are the same pro-military oldsters who benefit from Medicare and consider socialized Veteran’s services essential and patriotic.
The whole debate is painful for fresh ears: On a layover at LaGuardia this summer, my wife and I were aghast at the endlessly looping CNN footage of the town hall debacles. Such rage! Such hatred! Who are these people?
And why are they so mad? It might be interesting if more were operating with considered and thoughtful commitments to limited government. Some objectors do of course have good arguments. But too often the rancor feels like something less thoughtful and far scarier.
The truth is that I myself am generally pretty wary of government-managed care. A doctor friend tells us horror stories about Medicaid abusers in New York who call ambulances to pick them up when they need Tylenol. They wait at the emergency room for their free pain relief, talking on iPhones, all because the system is broken.
If we charged people even $1 for urgent visits on Medicaid, our doctor friend says, it would reduce visits by untold numbers. But what about that one person who doesn’t visit the doctor because they don’t have a dollar? They die — and an essential government program to help low-income citizens fails.
That’s the problem: Just like with roads and police, you just can’t fuck with health care. It’s life and death.
I don’t care how expensive it is. I don’t want to live in a country that can’t take care of its people — regardless of the cost. The alternative seems to me to be monstrous.
What’s more important: A citizenry secure in the knowledge that regardless of their personal wealth they will have their appendix removed; or a rigidly pro-market body politic that requires a credit card in order to treat someone who is incredibly sick? The going rate for that removal in California, where a friend recently had the operation and paid out of pocket: $36,000. For all but a chosen few, that means instant bankruptcy. How is this OK?