The nascent health care debate is a great example of how sometimes we become so set in the way things work that it's hard to see how we could possibly change. We have a health insurance system in this country that works for most, but far from all, of our citizens. It employs a lot of people and makes a lot of money and while it generally makes life difficult even for the people it eventually helps, we just accept it as the way it works. Here, for instance, is a disturbing story about how even people with health insurance can go bankrupt from their medical procedures
, which sort of undermines the entire idea of health insurance to begin with.Even the most drastic of proposals floating around Capitol Hill right now accept the underlying system as the jumping off point for any change. Even the so-called "public option" is merely a iteration of what we already have, just run by the government instead of private companies. Here is what it seems that everyone is missing: We live in a so-called modern, humane society that constantly criticizes other countries for their violations of human rights, and yet we allow people to suffer or even die just because they don't have enough money, despite the fact that adequate medical care is usually easily available.You can talk all you want about the free market, but it's an invalid argument, as we are happy to toss free-market principles out the window whenever it suits us (think AIG), but not, apparently, when people's lives are at stake. Our representatives, all of us, and especially the health insurance and medical industries, are entirely complacent in a system that allows some of our fellow citizens to lead lives of excruciating pain or slow death because they can't afford medical care. How, at the end of the day, there is any difference between a person dying of cancer being refused care by a doctor or health insurance company and a CIA contractor waterboarding a suspected terrorist is beyond me. The latter scenario has everyone outraged, and it happens to mostly really bad people and doesn't kill them; the former scenario is generally accepted as "just the way it works," and happens to innocent, hardworking people on a daily basis. Is a system that leaves a good person in (treatable) pain really less objectionable than a pouring water into someone's nose or leaving them in a cold room with the lights on?So, we need to forget free-market solutions, forget the public option. Enough marginal change. If someone is sick, they should get treated. Let's accept that as our starting point and then figure out how to pay for it.This is, of course, totally naive and politically nonviable. It also happens to be the right thing to do, and I'm confident that with enough smart people in the room, we could find a way to treat everyone. It's really hard to argue that because something is too difficult to implement, we have to let people die, but that seems to be the point to which we've gotten ourselves.That image is the Hippocratic Oath, which says a lot about the importance of saving people's lives, and not very much at all about only saving the lives of people who have insurance.