Brenda Cooper

On Health Care: Fairness vs. Fear

I’ve been listening to the health care debate for some time now.  Health care is one of the top things we need to fix to improve our economy (the others are education, broadband, and – most importantly – preservation of the world we live in).

I’m not enough of an expert to write intelligently on the details of any one type of coverage.  I suspect that we need certain elements like removing the profit motive from basic care and insurance, and  from at least parts of the rest of the system, cutting paperwork and overhead, and tort reform.  There are many systems which are better than ours; none is perfect.  Those are the intellectualized things I’ve gotten from listening to various arguments on the topic.

But the most visceral lesson is one I’ve heard.  It started as a vague thing I noticed, and then I started listening for it.

It’s all about fairness versus fear.

When people in other countries with universal health care of one type or another are interviewed, the arguments for their systems (and many of them defend their systems quite passionately) are primarily about fairness.  They are about making the wait the same for the rich and the poor.  They are about all babies having access to well-child care.  They are about all seniors being able to afford the basic drugs they need.

When Americans talk about health care, we talk about what care might be limited or how long a line for a non-critical procedure might be.  We talk about fear that we might have to wait to see a doctor.  We fear medicare will change.  We fear death panels.  We see universal health care as  a dangerous step down the road to socialism, which is one of the most emotionally charged words in today’s political scene.

It sounds like we are afraid that we’ll lose some of what it means to be American if we figure out a way to give everyone health care.  We sound selfish, frankly.  Me first, me in all cases, me no matter what.

Obviously, this is a generalization, these are the most common threads I’ve heard in a debate that raged from rational to irrational, from one end of the globe to another, and that has fixated on one tiny distraction after another.

Maybe it’s time for us to grow up and learn to share,  to decide that the rich can wait for a non-critical procedure while a poor person’s life is saved, to agree to some inconveniences that would keep the total cost of health care down so we can all have enough.