Friday, February 29, 2008

Universal Health Care vs Personal Wealth

As I've commented in the past, I am FOR universal health care. Frivolous law suits are a problem, but they are not the only or even the major cause of out of control health costs. That the government is moving to bar people from suing certain entities for any cause is a wholly unfair endeavor. Are there abuses? Certainly. It's a part of human nature to cheat. But cheating goes both ways. There are obviously individuals, families who have large and legitimate claims against the health care industry who should be allowed access to the legal system for fair compensation. But, I digress.

Sixty or more years ago the cost for health care was relatively low owing to the fact that beyond providing a bed and some multi-colored pills of dubious efficacy, the occasional high colonic, there was little that a hospital could offer. By comparison to today, surgical procedures were rudimentary - adequate for fairly mundane maladies; removal of appendices, tonsils, repair of hernias, certain types of injuries, and a handful of others. But, they were doing little of what can be done surgically today. Also, technology was almost non-existent. XRay was about it. There were a few gizmos, a few lab procedures, but again, damn little of what has been developed since, say the 1950s. Of course, all of this stuff costs a great deal of money to design, engineer, construct, set-up, operate and maintain.

Additionally, drugs have made a quantam leap during the same period. As a teenager my father worked for Eli Lilly - we're talking around 1920 or so. He and another kid about his age were employed to stock the drugs. The more potent of the medications available at the time were kept in a locked wire enclosed cage. My father and the other boy were in charge of it. They were entrusted with the key! Unfortunately, the other boy discovered something he could drink that would get him high - paregoric, perhaps, or some other opiate derivative, I'd guess. (I doubt they used "high" to describe those kind of effects at that time, but you get what I mean.) The other boy was discovered "getting a buzz on" by someone, and they were both fired. I assume storage and security of such substances has become more sophisticated today, or so I would hope.

My point being that the medical industry has become just that - an industry. It's great that we've developed all of these machines and drugs and procedures, but they are of little value to those who can't afford medical insurance, let alone the astronomical costs of many of the aforementioned developments.

I'm not against a guy making a buck. But health and human life has value as well. Americans are the first to stand up and prattle on about how great this country is; about how much we have, our freedoms and so on. While our economy is closer to teetering on the brink than it has for decades, we remain, I believe, the richest (large) nation in the world. Yet we still have at least 20% of our population who have little or no effective access to even nominal health care. What it comes down to is which is paramount - a citizen's right to attain wealth or a citizen's right to life and health?

The richest nation in the world should be able to accomodate both, but if it can't, one's very life trumps anyone's access to wealth. A country - its government - should be able to provide its citizens in need with access to the basics of life - including health care. I don't believe that it follows that anyone in particular will be denied the opportunity to fill their coffers should our government provide universal health care to all citizens. Are there no rich Brits, no rich Germans, Canadians, Aussies, and YES, Frenchies?

Might it render the goal of personal wealth a bit harder to achieve? Perhaps. But having access to doctors and hospitals, diagnostics and surgical procedures, drugs and therapies can enable many people with an opportunity to LIVE and perhaps to function. Again, life trumps wealth.


1 comment:

Nicki said...

Good post.