Sunday, May 15, 2011

Privilege or Right?

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on it's that healthcare is expensive. Unfortunately that's about all we can agree on. As I listened to the 2009 - 2010 health reform 'debate' and the many ripples that it spawned I kept coming back to the same question: Is healthcare a right or a privilege? This seems to be the real heart of the matter, at least for those not associated with an insurance or pharmaceutical company. That's really what we're debating isn't it?

On the liberal/progressive side are those who see this as a basic rights issue. They believe that access to medical care should be something all Americans can count on, no matter their financial status. On the conservative end of the spectrum it seems to be viewed as more of a luxury and that access should be something you must work for and earn. Now conservatives won't put it that way exactly, but that's really the unspoken truth behind all the careful prose. They want to sound like they care, but in the end they always seem to rely on going to the Emergency Room as the fallback position. As if that's some sort of cost cutting measure, which it most certainly is not. That just pushes the cost around, out of sight, till it's paid for by all of us in one shape or form.

I'm sure it's obvious where I stand in this debate. For me it comes down to a simple question of whether a person's lifespan and basic health should rest solely on the size of their paycheck. Is a subcontracting carpenter less worthy of a long, healthy life simply because his job doesn't afford him health insurance and he may or may not be able to afford a policy on his own? Is a network administrator's life more important because his job usually provides health insurance? And even if you remove the employer subsidized insurance from the equation, a net admin makes more than most carpenters, so he would be much more likely to be able to afford insurance on his own. Put it this way, the CEO of Goldman Sachs will never want for medical care, no matter what ailment he may suffer from. However a single mom working multiple part time jobs to make ends meet will have difficulty paying for treatment of a simple broken bone, much less something like cancer. So is the CEO more deserving of life than the single mom because he has a high paying job with top of the line health insurance?

We in America like to think we have the best medical care the world has to offer. And, in part, that may be true, based on how many of the world's great and powerful come here for treatment. But it's important to remember that medical care and health care are two completely different things. Medical care is the actual skill of the medical staff, the technology they wield and their ability to apply both to cure a condition or manage it for the best quality of life. Medical care is not concerned with cost, only results. Health care on the other hand is all about cost. Health care is exclusively focused on how much medical care you are allowed by your insurance and/or your personal finances. So America may indeed have stellar medical care, but that doesn't mean all Americans are in a position to actually benefit from it.

And that's where the rubber meets the road on this issue, isn't it? Stop blathering about 'death panels' and socialism. Strip away the histrionics, the hyperbole and the euphemisms and admit what this is really all about! Is a person's life only as valuable as his paycheck?