Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wrong question...wrong answer!

At the so-called Tea Party debate on Tuesday night, moderator Wolf Blitzer posed the following question to candidate Ron Paul:

A healthy, 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides: You know what? I'm not going to spend 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance, because I'm healthy; I don't need it,” Blitzer said. “But you know, something terrible happens; all of a sudden, he needs it. Who's going to pay for it, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

Candidate Paul responded:

What he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself.  My advice to him would have a major medical policy...

Then he added:

That's what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.

The moderator then pushed for a more specific answer:

But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

Before he could respond, someone (or more than one someone) in the audience responded yelling "Yeah!"

That's an interesting, and very revealing, response. However, it was the wrong question. Here's why.

Many people believe in the concept of accepting responsibility for your own actions.  Although there was more to the original story, people were outraged when a woman sued McDonald's because she put a cup of hot coffee between her legs, drove out of the drive through, and then spilled it causing burns. Why? Well, she put herself in that situation, and...tough luck. Next time be a bit smarter.

Blitzer's question here was similar.  He created a man who made a choice, and then questioned whether we, as a society, should "compensate" him when his choice proved to be wrong.  While I think the response from the audience was both cruel and short-sighted, I can understand why someone might think that's an appropriate answer.

However, the question doesn't accurately present the situation we should consider.

So, let's phrase the question a bit more accurately. The age and sex of the hypothetical person doesn't much matter, but I'll include it just to level the playing field.

A normally healthy 30 year old man, who has lost his job and is currently unemployed (but looking) or a 30 year old man who has a job that does not provide health insurance and does not make enough to be able to afford to buy health insurance suddenly finds himself with a medical emergency.  Should society allow him to receive medical care?

Now, notice the differences. Today 49.9 million Americans don't have health coverage. Today 46.2 million people officially live in poverty, and only a portion of those receive governmental health care. Although the exact number may be unknown, or unknowable, the fact is that many of those without health insurance simply can't possibly afford it.  It's not a question of choice, unless you believe they should chose between health insurance and eating and paying the rent. That's not a choice.

At some point, our society must discover and establish what is acceptable for the whole.  That might mean adopting a system of laws. That might mean accepting people of different races and religions. That might mean allowing everyone to vote. It might even mean that everyone should have a Right to basic medical care.

There are a couple of earlier examples of the behavior we witnessed at the debate last night.

The first can be found in the Coliseum in Rome, where people cheered and jeered as others entertained them by dying. Yeah! Kill! Kill!

And then there was that famous French woman who put the whole thing in its proper context. Let them eat cake!

Is that the sort of society we want to live in? Doesn't matter, I guess, because it IS the sort of society we DO live in. We heard it loud and clear Tuesday night. Sad. What may be even sadder is that not a single one of the candidates standing on that stage, who seek to lead this country into the future, had a problem with it, and that's truly sad.


Anonymous said...

Disturbing indeed. It sounds like they are all trying not to think.

Jen said...

I'm quite confused as to how the American health system works -- or doesn't, apparently. Here in Australia if I have a medical emergency, I go to the hospital and they fix me up. Later, if I have health insurance, my insurer pays. Also, for elective surgery or giving birth or the sort of stuff you plan ahead a bit, because I have health insurance I can go to a private hospital instead of a public hospital, where I can get my own room instead of being stuck in a ward. If I don't, the government pays. The trick to get people to pay for health insurance then is that if you have it you go to the front of the queue for elective surgery, and you also get a small tax break at tax time.

It's certainly not the best system in the world. It's not perfect and there are still inequalities in the system, but at least your 30 year old man who goes into a coma is treated for free in hospital.

What amazes me is that in a lot of debates I've seen on the US system people seem to think "Whoa, look out, we'll turn socialist!" When in reality, places like Canada, the UK and Australia have had government-provided healthcare for years.

Craig Allen said...


In general health insurance is provided by your employer, but not all do that, especially for lower paying jobs. You can purchase it personally, but it's usually much more expensive. Something like a 1/4 of the population has no coverage, so they avoid going to the doctor, and go to the emergency room for care when things are really bad.

The hospitals can bill for that service, and people going into bankruptcy because of medical bills is not uncommon. Sad, but true. There are some governmental programs for the poor, but not everyone can qualify, especially those who have jobs that make "too much" to qualify but not enough to buy the coverage themselves.

In short, it's a mess, and the great fear is "socialized" gets fixed.

Jen said...

Thanks for clearing it up, Craig.

It's a strange system, and it must be very difficult to recover financially if you ever find yourself on the wrong end of it.