Thursday, March 6, 2008

Take a number!

It was November 7, 1950 and Earl Warren was on the verge of winning a third term as California’s governor. Instead of celebrating in the governor’s mansion, Earl and his wife Nina were at the bedside of their youngest daughter Honey Bear who had come down with a case of infant paralysis. Shaken and unusually somber, Warren isolated himself even when the election returns came favorably pouring in. As Governor, Earl Warren’s health plan covered his family (six children and wife), an acknowledgement that Warren felt a deep appreciation and gratitude for. In response to the abundant medical care costs, Warren remarked to a reporter, “What would the average family do if afflicted this way? They wouldn’t have any resources to take care of it.”

And so was the turning point for a governor who would become one of the greatest Chief Justices in American history. A man who began his law and political career as a conservative from the Republican party to a compassionate overseer of justice as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. From that event forward, Chief Warren would take off his wingtip shoes and try on a pair from the working class citizen’s perspective.

Chief Warren never did get health care coverage for all of his constituents. Instead he was as he put it, “glad to be going to the supreme Court because now I can help the less fortunate, the people in our society who suffer, the disadvantaged.“ President Eisenhower would remark several years after his appointment of the Chief to the bench “was the biggest damn fool thing I ever did.” With irony as our witness, just as Eisenhower thought of Chief Warren as his biggest mistake, history has claimed the Chief Ike’s greatest success.

My perspective on health care does not come by a sob story of struggling to fight an HMO. I have never once been denied medical help nor do I have inadequate coverage. I’m not one of the fifty or so million adults without health insurance that we hear so much about. I make this argument because I wonder like Chief Warren, “what happens to all of those who are not covered by the government?”

It would be very easy for me to stay out of this debate. I’m a government employee as a member of the armed services where I get 100% health care coverage at any time of day for any illness. I could get on the phone right now and be seen by a doctor today, tomorrow and for as long as I so choose. I’ve had every vaccine that exists and even get priority for the flu shot. A year ago if you recall there weren’t even enough to cover all senior citizens (the ones who needed them the most!). The scars on my arm are a constant reminder that I am one of the privileged few who will be taken care of at no cost to me by Uncle Sam. For that alone I feel grateful, but also in a great sense; guilty.

The bottom line is that I’m a healthy 25 year old adult male who has a health plan that more than covers my needs. I’m very fortunate that I pay nothing into this system whereas many like my parents pay upwards of $15,000 a year. I mention all of this as a means to brag by the way. I’m not being modest. I want everyone to know that I could walk across the street to CVS to pick up a prescription of pain killers or skin products without paying a dime. I talk to my physician regularly and have seen a doctor more times than I can count in the past year. Oh, another thing, I’m not even sick. I haven’t broken any bones or anything of that nature. I just have the taxpayers of America to thank.

I would also like the American people to know that the US is the only wealthy industrialized nation without a universal health care system. That’s a fact. We are surrounded by countries who provide for their citizens, from our neighbors to the north, Canada to the south such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay…even Cuba! Oh and Mexico will probably have it in a year. There are more; Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Brunei, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this is a revolutionary concept though.

It would be hard for me to imagine how I might react if I had a terminally ill friend or relative who sought medical care but were refused due to health insurance technicalities and disqualifying preconditions. I know for certain that I would not walk away. Therefore, before it even gets to that point in which I do as Denzel Washington did for his son in John Q or before I cross the border to Canada for generic drugs or renounce my citizenship so that I could fly to France and come under their plan, I think we ought to re-look the situation.

The politicians we hear debating this issue so tenaciously are the same elected officials that receive congressional health care. Your taxpayers ensure that if they are sick, they will be treated. As far as I’m concerned, they are hypocrites for even having a say in the discussion. Many of these people also receive substantial amounts of money from insurance companies and pass legislation to protect the lobbyists that line their pockets and provide for their campaigns. but don’t take my word for it.

The problem as I see it is not that our hospitals are broken. The problem is that health care is not affordable. Millions of Americans do without because they must choose between pills or food. Doctor’s must turn away potential patients who are sick because they don‘t have an insurance card. Families must choose between life saving medical procedures or death all because of money. Is that how far we’ve come? Have we devalued the human being by putting a price tag on his or her body? Since when has that been what medicine was all about? Call me naïve, but I always assumed one of the reasons doctors went into medicine was to help people. If given the choice, I guess I’d rather be a doctor in a country that didn’t have to worry about these petty things.

These are awful options but they are reality. Even those who have insurance plans are not covered sufficiently enough and are often given lesser and more cost efficient treatments at their own health’s expense.

Some of you may be thinking I’m throwing a political pitch your way. I can guarantee you that I’m doing no such thing. I can only guarantee that the facts that I have presented are true and as a consequence, the people who deal without health care are real.

I ask whoever reads this the following questions: Why a country like Cuba-communist and sworn enemies of the US-has health care for all of its citizens? Why can criminals in federal prisons get health care and the rest of the law abiding Americans cannot? Why can all of the countries aforementioned find innovative ways to provide a basic service while the US refuses? Why have we as a nation become so selfish that we would rather turn a blind eye to this injustice?

I state injustice because that is surely the word that Chief Warren would use in this instance. Health care is more than a problem, it ought to be our mission. It transcends political indifference and supersedes that overarching goal of individual prosperity. It is the linchpin of the right to life and is in the fundamental catalyst that drives our pursuit of happiness. Health care is a civil liberties issue not a partisan one. It is a fight worthy of our attention. As the ole’ Chief might say, “if it isn’t worth fighting for, it isn’t worth having.”

We are a nation held together by a common set of values. Our bond is only as strong as the weakest link. That weak link is health care. Let’s do something about it.

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