The Sick Patient: U.S. Health Care and Reform Debate...or...Losing Our Moral Ethical Backbone

Dudley Weeks ©

The value, strength and effectiveness of any society is ultimately determined by what it stands for, by its priorities, and how it implements those priorities.  To put it another way, a society is only as strong as its moral, ethical backbone.

Our species is still at a young stage in its evolution, as is the American society.  Most of our potential is yet to be developed, and within that potential are both positive and negative possibilities.  Our structures and systems need to encourage and energize the positives.  Yet, both the U.S. health care system as presently structured, and the current health care reform debate, are feeding our negative potential. 

The leaders advocating needed reforms, including the Obama administration, seem to be suffering from a worsening case of backbone weakness.  They seem ready to give up the most crucial reforms in order to get some kind of legislation, almost any kind of health care legislation, passed.

Then there are those who know reform is needed but want only to tinker with a few parts are basically leaving the major problems within the current system unchanged. 

And, finally, there are the leaders intent on blocking any reform.  Their reasons are deeply disturbing.  One reason is aimed at weakening Obama, another is based on allowing the greedy to continue using the health of citizens as a means of accumulating outlandish profits.   The  misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies this group is spreading is shameful.  Sadly, many Americans are being duped by these lies.  To be sure, a society’s health care system is enormously complex.  The components are many and varied, and we must choose priorities among them.

The economic components are receiving the most attention, along with the falsehoods being perpetrated.  The critically important component that seems to be increasingly ignored is the commitment to moral and ethical standards.  The American society prides itself on standing for freedom and democracy, even waging wars to promote those values.  But the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the prideful claims American citizens make about their nation also emphasize fairness, equal opportunity, and promoting the welfare of all citizens.  These vital moral and ethical values are not supported by the current health care system and are getting lost in the health care reform mess.

In making sense of the complex health care reform quagmire, there are countless aspects we could discuss.  However, I suggest there are five major issues of primary importance.

1.  The Essential Goal of Effective Health Care

To be effective, a society’s health care system needs to be structured and implemented in a way that provides quality care to all its citizens at affordable costs.  That is the essential goal of health care and must not be compromised.  A society weakens itself socially, politically, and economically when that goal is obstructed by treating health care as a means to excessive financial profit,  excluding almost fifty million citizens from being able to pay for health insurance, and making political party partisanship more important that the society’s health.

The health care debate should not be about Barack Obama, or Republicans or Democrats, or anything other than developing a system that serves the health needs of the American people.  

2.  Health Care within a Capitalist Economic System

Capitalism is based in part on economic “freedom” and on competition.  As history has proven, economic freedom can be abused through greed, excess, and the monopolization of power, resources and benefits.  To counteract those abuses, and to produce positive results, economic freedom must be accompanied by responsibility and ethics.  If responsibility and ethics are ignored by major players in the capitalist system, who will protect the citizenry and help freedom live up to its positive potential?  To leave that task up to those major players has proven to be like depending on a broken dam to manage flood control, or putting a person suffering from drug addiction in charge of a pharmacy.      

3.  The Government’s Role 

Ideally, people, groups and institutions should regulate themselves and reign in their excesses and greed.  But this has not happened, and there are no indications to show it will happen in the future under the current health care system.  The  A government by the people, for the people and of the people has a legitimate right and responsibility to do its job of protecting citizens from abuse.  Allowing government to fulfill that mandate is both rational AND “American”.

 Some people and groups seem to believe ANY government role in society is an affront against God, country, and “freedom”.  Until, of course, they want government to outlaw same-sex unions, or most immigration, or any restrictions on guns, or a woman’s choice to have an abortion, or a host of other issues.  It seems government involvement in support of those things is quite acceptable. 

The so-called “public option” being proposed in some of the health care plans would allow government to provide an additional health insurance choice other than the ones managed by for-profit companies.  The public option would be a choice, and nobody would be forced to choose that option.  For-profit insurance companies would not be ruined.  They would simply have another competitor in a capitalist system.  Having the public option choice would, through the process of capitalist competition, lead the for-profit insurance companies to move from excessive, unfair profits to reasonable profits.  To falsely claim that would be “socialized medicine” demonstrates to me either an ignorance of capitalism, and/or a total disregard of facts, and/or a partisan political fear that the current government might succeed in health care reform and win another election.

If Obama and his administration give up on the public option, they will be putting politics above the needs of the American people, letting their moral and ethical backbone collapse, and turning their backs on some of the reasons they were elected.  I suggest it is unconscionable to accept a politically driven health care reform bill that does little if anything to reign in the control over health care that currently rests firmly in the hands of the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry, and Wall Street.

4.  The Effects of the Current Health Care System on the Overall Economy

It is imperative that we realize how severely the current health care system is contributing to the problems in the overall economy.  There is no way to “fix” the economy without significant health care reform.  There are many examples, but I will mention just one.  The amount Americans spend on overpriced health care and insurance each year is staggering. Many people have little or nothing left to spend on other basic needs or to pump money into the overall economy.  It is estimated that one-half of all home foreclosures are related to health care costs.  Individuals and families are having to choose between paying health care bills or mortgage payments.

A nation’s economy always involves making tough choices among a plethora of needs and priorities.  To those who are opposing health care reform because of its still-to-be-determined costs, I ask the following questions.  Have you considered how much more it will cost NOT to have significant reform?  How important is having good health and affordable health care to everything else we do in life?  If we are looking to cut back on national expenses and debt, what are some of the expenditure and waste excesses other than health care we need to target?

5.  The Destructive Use of Misinformation, Lies, and Unsubstantiated Fear

If people and groups find it necessary to “win” by spreading misinformation and lies, then it casts doubts on the strength and validity of their points of view.  Here are but a few examples, some referred to earlier, of the misinformation and falsehoods being spread concerning health care reform.     
            • The falsehood that the public option is “socialized” medicine and not really a choice, and that the public option competition being proposed is anti-capitalism and will destroy the for-profit insurance companies
            • The falsehood that there is a “death panel” in any of the health reform plans that gives the choice of life or death to someone other than the patient and/or his/her family in consultation with the attending doctors
            • The falsehood that the Obama reform plan specifically provides federal funds for abortions
            • The falsehood that Seniors will lose their own doctors under the Obama plan, and that the older people are, and thus have fewer years of life ahead, will receive less immediate health care than younger people
            • The falsehood that people who want to keep their current insurance plan will be forced to transfer to the public option
            • The falsehood that the current U.S. health care system is ranked as one of the best in the world in terms of overall effectiveness (percentage of citizens served, affordability, efficient access, not just the quality of health care professionals).

I believe one of the most damaging and unconscionable patterns of contemporary human society is our use of unsubstantiated fear to scare people into supporting our own points of view.  Decisions concerning politics, the economy, and social interaction that are based on false fear are weak decisions doomed to ultimate ineffectiveness.  Yet, some people and groups keep on using fear as a weapon.  Most Americans abhor that pattern when bullies use it, but some people and groups are using it in the health care reform debate.  

A Final Comment

How the American society and each citizen chooses to deal with the health care reform challenge says a lot about us, our priorities, our sense of fairness, and our understanding and use of Freedom.
We can express our opinions, basing them on an understanding of the facts.   Constructive dialogue will help lead us to adopt a health care system that will not be perfect, but will be a significant improvement over what we have now.  Every citizen will ultimately benefit in the ways that matter, as will every health care provider and the society as a whole.  We as individual citizens and a nation have the wisdom and commitment to keep our moral and ethical backbone strong.  If we choose not to, the entire national body may well become a terminally sick patient.

Dudley Weeks

(Copyright 2009: Domestic and international law prohibits the public use of this article without the written permission of the author. Any reprint must bear the author’s name and notice of legal restrictions.