21 July 2009

Americans: OK with Inequality

Jacob Weisberg has a nice piece at Slate on the reform package. What really caught my attention, however, was this commenter:
Weisberg writes: "[The British system] doesn't cover many procedures we regard as standard, such as PSA tests for men in their 50s..."

The PSA is more likely evidence of what's wrong with the US system, not what's wrong with the British. It has become a standard even though there is little, if any, evidence it saves lives. Yesterday's NY Times ran a story that pointed out, "the federal Centers for Disease Control makes it clear on its Web site: there is no medical proof yet that routine screening for lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancer reduces deaths from those cancers." But many men will suffer wretched complications from treatments in response to the screening.

But that's my minor quibble with Weisberg. The major one is this: "Morally speaking, Americans are surely more accepting of economic inequality than their European brethren. But the random unfairness that condemns the uninsured to bad health and the risk of untimely death offends the social conscience."

If only it were true that the bad health, disabilities and deaths that result from the lack of access to health care really offended Americans. Sure, there are some who are really outraged, some who are disturbed, and others who just can't be bothered to think about it. But there is also a group (large or not?) who are really satisfied knowing that there are winners and losers in American life and they are only too happy to be on the winning side. If we acted to create a more equitable system, how would they know who the winners and losers are and which side of that line they're on? Knowing that others are suffering, and believing that everyone in life pretty much gets what they deserve to get, they oppose any change that would bring relief to the suffering or make life "fairer."

Those who are passionate about universal care aren't large enough in numbers to bring about a change. Those who aren't passionate are too disturbed at the thought that reform may bring some change to what they already have to support it. And those who are happy with the way things are aren't going to support any change at all. If any reform bill passes it will have to be diluted too much to avoid imposing real change on health care providers or the currently insured. We're going to fall short again.
No doubt we'll fall short for just those reasons, although I sure hope that Obama gets us on track to a solution.

This comment makes me think about hearing some asinine Republican representative on C-Span last night pontificating on how every American has access to health care - it's just that not all of us have health insurance - two very different things, he wisely noted.

Right. Tell it to my brother. Tell it to all the American parents and children who've died because they did not have health insurance - and because they did not have health insurance they did not go to the doctor in time, and because they did not have health insurance the hospital treated them differently than had they been insured.

And I think about some commenter on a radio station saying that he sure did expect to have better health care - far better health care - because he was insured - otherwise what the hell was he paying for?

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