Thursday, September 03, 2009

Can We Talk?

Like many Americans, I have aging parents who increasingly need health care. Fortunately, they have Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance so the costs of their care are not driving them from their home.
As I walk down this well trod path I cannot help but wonder why so many younger Americans are forced into bankruptcy because of health care costs. In the wealthiest country in the world, it is unfathomable that anyone should go broke because they get sick.
As a parent who is lucky enough to have decent insurance, I have often wondered what I would do if I had to pay the full cost -- often several hundred dollars -- of antibiotics when my children got simple ear infections. If I lived closer to the economic edge, what bills would I skip? What meals would I skip? How sick would I have to get before seeking care for myself?
Our present system, which condemns thousands of citizens to economic disaster due to illness and some even to premature death, is morally indefensible.
In that context, to reduce the current national "debate" to name-calling and fear-mongering is beneath contempt.
As a person of faith, the moral bottom line for me is simple: No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.

The current system falls woefully short. The way to a better system is not clear, but there are numerous proven options around the world and some fundamental building blocks including not using preexisting conditions to deny coverage and making coverage portable with regard to employment and relocation.
An honest national debate would be looking at options and leading us toward clear decisions about what will work best for America. It is complex, to be sure, but it is not impossible. The Japanese, Canadians, Europeans, Brits and many others make national health insurance programs work. Some are public, some are private, some are hybrid systems, but all of them work better and keep people healthier than our system.
It is far past time for this national conversation and the reforms that should result. Where is the leadership with the courage to make it happen?
UPDATE: the Facebook status on health care that inspired this brief reflection has gone viral today and created a kind of virtual town hall meeting. Wow. No guns and no screaming! And, from what I've seen, a whole lot of good back and forth about various systems and the world views behind them. Maybe we can still have civil conversation, and, who would've thunk it -- on the internet.