What a question—but let me ask it anyway. Health care in a developed nation, arguably the most highly developed nation in the world, should not be a political issue, let alone a hotly debated, hysterically reviled idea. In light of the turmoil and controversy that has erupted because of our current attempt at an inclusive national health care program, I feel I must ask: What kind of society are we—and what kind of society do we aspire to be?
We speak of American values—obviously there are vastly differing opinions of what they are. Are we still serious about such old standbys as “liberty and justice for all” and “government of the people, by the people and for the people?” Can we not presume that the right to health care is within those boundaries? Why are people so angry about universal health care? The most frequently shouted reason in the streets is a fear of socialism, yet those who are protesting do not seem to revile Social Security and Medicare—both the rich and the poor and every one in between seem to want both of those—not to mention that they want roads to drive on, safety rules and all the basics of a good life. I think it’s more obstructive than constructive to put it mildly. It’s not the politics of civil discussion, disagreement and compromise that has made us a great nation.
Meantime, quite unexpectedly, last week I had the opportunity to try out the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in London. I had an infected toe—no big deal except that infections left alone can become a big deal. I went to an emergency room filled with people with many different ailments, most of them considerably worse than mine. On arrival, the attendant asked for my name, birthdate and address and said that a nurse would see me shortly, which she did. The nurse evaluated my condition and said that a doctor would see me in about an hour and a half; instead it was 45 minutes. The doctor checked me, gave me a prescription and directed me to the hospital pharmacy. I was asked for my name and birthdate. Ten minutes later I left the hospital with my medication. No money was mentioned or passed hands.
I would have been glad to pay for that service and was able to. But in my view it is better—and probably more financially prudent– to err on the side of giving me a free ride while taking care of all the people that can’t afford to pay.
We tolerate a lot of corruption in this country, including a lot of dishonesty of corporations that pay their executives hundreds of millions of dollars per year whether they’re successes or failures. I really don’t want to pay for or accept that as our reality. On the other hand, I would not only be willing but proud to pay the taxes that would give all of us Americans the health care that we need when we need it along with the preventive measures that we all deserve as well. Is that un-American?