A Box of Soap

Obamacare is provoking a much needed discussion about American health care.  People I have known and loved forever surprise me with their public vitriol about the President and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Health care debate should be about sick people having access to doctors and treatment, not about liberals, conservatives, or personalities.

You’d think there would be agreement that health care change is needed, even if we disagree about how to change it.  As recently as 2010 America continued its decade-long trend of spending twice as much per capita as other developed nations only to maintain outcomes that rank somewhere between middle-of-the-pack to low internationally, and a life expectancy at birth ranking lower than most other nations.  The stubborn resistance to make this better is hard to understand.

Sometimes I suspect that it is reflex that makes us claim that American health care is the best in the world. Does it downgrade your patriotism to believe that other countries have found more humane and efficient health care solutions?  Love of country does not include turning a blind eye to its faults.  Instead it demands our making the effort to fix things.

We readily buy Japanese cars and electronics, but wouldn’t even consider buying their health care system, which shows the same level of quality engineering and dependability.  Japan has universal health coverage: anyone not covered by corporate insurance is offered national health insurance.  They spend less than half per citizen than we do to care for one of the world’s healthiest populaces.  There is not much to fear in this.

The universal health care we seem to fear is already in place.  Those who can’t afford health care simply go to the emergency room.  There is no more costly and inefficient way to deliver health care.  The imagined freedom to choose our health care has led us to this.  Making health care available to only those who can afford it is the same as imprisoning those living in poverty.

It is equability that is most lacking in American health care.  The heartbreaking argument I hear from people I know is the one reasoning that their own health care is available to them because they worked hard to earn it.  Well sure, I paid health care premiums for 30-some years without making any big claims against my policy.  Then, I needed to.  It is not hard to envision some more serious illness and treatment that I could never have paid for.  If you could not afford treatment would you simply choose to forgo it and suffer the consequences?  That is what we ask low income Americans to do.  Poverty is not a sin to be punished, it is an economic hardship.

Last week was Thanksgiving—the one holiday that celebrates a generosity of spirit, and humble recognition of blessings we have not earned.  Along with Christmas it is a time of year when we are a little more open to sharing.  If you have good health care you know what a freedom that is. Most other nations understand that they are made better by looking out for each other.  It is clearly possible for America to provide health care that costs much less and is offered to every citizen.  It is not easy to make a sensible argument against that.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soap box regularly in the Keizertimes.)