Saturday, August 1, 2009

Health Care: A Fair Assessment

The Washington Post employs a man named Charles Krauthammer, who you'll sometimes see on Fox News, looking and speaking like he has an enormous wad of tissue jammed up each nostril.

Krauthammer's job is to be George Will without perspective. That is to say, he criticizes the left, but fails to account for the big picture.

Take his recent column on Democratic health care proposals, which he complained would place an extra burden on the "investor class," a cute euphemism that refers to people who have enough spare cash laying around to buy stocks and real estate and rare Ronald Reagan commemorative chinaware.

Yes, Charles, the useless, unnecessary urinalyses that come with the threat of malpractice lawsuits are a huge problem, and it's true, tort is not on the table. But the larger reason health insurance is expensive is because it is in high demand. Any free-market apologist should know that.

Somewhere in our nation's recent history, someone discovered that people will spend whatever they can to put off dying, or at least to feel less sick.

Staying healthy is becoming more of a challenge, as Americans consume mass quantities of foods manufactured for their cost-effectiveness, rather than their nutritional content.

It's been said many times: If we are what we eat, Americans are cheap and easy.

Whole and organic foods, lacking in preservatives, hormones, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals, are time-consuming and expensive to prepare. So virtually no one buys them. They'd rather pay for colonoscopies and dialysis.

So while politicians blame insurance fat cats and trial lawyers, the rest of us enact history's latest demonstration of how the "haves" exploit the weaknesses of the "have-nots."

Think of it this way: the "investor class" owns Mrs. Butterworth. They sell a nice looking bottle of syrup with a wholesome image, and if you don't have a Master's Degree in nutrition or biochemistry, and your favorite news source sells advertising to the food industry, you're unlikely to realize that Mrs. Butterworth is in cahoots with the Keebler Elves to make sure you don't see your grandchildren graduate from high school.

Krauthammer's typical myopia occupied my mind while I wolfed down a dough boy at the Central Maine (non-organic) Egg Festival recently.

It was remarkable, first of all, that I was able to think about anything besides photography, since my wife demands hundres of pictures of our daughter every time she gets on a new ride that goes around in a circle at 2 mph.

It was also remarkable because of the disproportionate number of people at the midway who did not appear to represent the "investor class" (unless I've been misinformed about what happens over time to the value of tattoos and lit cigarettes).

I realize I'm operating on stereotypes here, but as I dumped extra powdered sugar on my $3 indulgence, I considered taking a random poll of how many fair-goers have their health care paid for by the government, versus those who exceed the income guidelines but still can't afford decent coverage for their families.

It would just be nice to live in a world where one person's full-time wages were enough to meet his or her family's basic needs.

I don't begrudge MaineCare for those who qualify. But you won't see me get too choked up if we have to bite into some of Charles Krauthammer's stock dividends to expand coverage for those who don't.

1 comment:

derek said...

Being healthy doesn't come cheap. Aside from exercise, which you really don't need that gym membership to do, living healthy can come at a steep price.

Eating organically is expensive. If I get groceries at Whole Foods (which is not always more expensive than Shaws or Hannaford) I leave with probably two bags around $100 bucks. A trip to Shaws I'll get maybe twice as much for around the same price. My wife and I have discussed many times how a family living on a tight budget could eat healthy. Short answer is that they probably can't, at least not without a lot of thought and planning.

Not to mention that lower income people are statistically more likely to engage in "risky behavior" like smoking and drinking, lead more stressful lives, and live in areas more prone to crime, pollution, etc. The situation gets complex rather quickly.

In the long run, prevention programs, education and outreach, more economic opportunities will alleviate some of these problems, hopefully lowering health care costs overall. Of course there is something to be said for personal choice. People will do what people want to do. People can eat trans-fats and smoke carcinogens all they want really. No skin off my nose, until I have to start paying for their medical bills.