Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Right To Bear Logic

In the land of health care reform, it is apparently possible to have more bullets than brains.

The gun-bearing, government-hating, fact-fearing fringe didn't miss a chance this summer to spit the word "socialism" at every mention of President Obama's health care proposals. I guess no one told them the principles of socialized managment are already at work in America for a lot of endeavors that we all happily live with. In fact, many of these endeavors are so vital we couldn't live without them: military defense, traffic control for roads, skies and shipping lanes, maintenance of roads and bridges, and protection of the national water supply. All of these are either managed or intimately regulated by the national or state governments. They would not exist on any scale that's meaningful unless government was in charge of them.

We agree to government management of some institutions because they are just too indispensible our collective welfare to be left to the whims of individual gain. We protect these "indispensibles" from the vagaries of the marketplace. And just as military defense and clean water are indispensible to our survival, so is medical care. It should rank, accordingly, on a par with secure borders and strong bridges.

But, instead, health care in America has been held hostage for half a century by the exclusive purview of the insurance industry, which doles out medicine on a profitability basis. The result is capricious care that is less effective and more expensive than in any other industrialized country. We have fewer physicians, in fact, and more unnecessary deaths per capita than most European nations, all of which guarantee universal health care and none of which consider themselves "socialist."

Our current system wastes money and lives. If the private sector is better than the government at managing health care, then consider what life would be like if the risk-averse insurance industry took over military defense. Would we justify defending only coastal states from a Russian invasion, while letting South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma fend for themselves? What if management of the water supply was left to the margin-minded insurance industry. Would we allow everyone in South Carolina, Ohio and Wyoming to go to sleep thirsty every night while making sure the water needs of other states were met?

Of course not. Instead, we expect the government to manage those institutions and infrastructures with a sense of responsibility that private industry does not and will never shoulder. We pay taxes precisely so the government can guarantee that we are all safe from invasions, unsafe water and dangerous bridges. We pay taxes because we care about each other's welfare. Is that socialism?

Every human being needs health care at some point over the course of our lives, and when we need it, it's as important to our survival as soldiers defending our country, reservoirs cradling our water, airports and highways carrying people and products where they need to go. The eloquent New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, describes other examples of this:

Health care is a right, just as national defense is a right. That right cannot be bullied away by accusations of socialism or a display of bullets. It can, however, be championed by a display of brains.