Sick Stuff

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Everybody loves to hate the large financial services companies these days, and I’m no different. Though I get a little more squeamish about it when I know those companies are people, just like you and me, and not the large, faceless, state-created entities we use to think corporations were (more on that later). You know, how can you really get spittle-spewin’ mad at poor old Johnny AIG, who has to go home after a rough day of dispersing bonuses and face the nagging Mrs. AIG and her mother who came for a visit and now won’t leave? Or Eddie Anthem, with the bratty step-kids and a brother always looking for a hand out?

Now, I have kept the political rants to a minimum lately here at C?WC? First there was so much attention on the move, then the impending milestone birthday (impending no more; give me my AARP card and be done with it). But as I alluded to last time, I feel a growing urge to let my crotchety freak-flag fly, and today I want to wave at it at some big targets. This could get messy, as the frustration with greedy and/or idiotic folks roils into a frothy stew of  venom that spills out of the pot and works its way into every crevice of the stove (just like that batch of homemade beer/wort once did, creating a sticky mess that was not as sweet-smelling to my mother as it was to me, but that’s another story…).

My old doctor in Chicago sends out a weekly email, highlighting some medical tidbit. He is not your usual MD; he has a one-man shop augmented by a chiropractor and other practitioners of alternative medicine. In many cases, he promotes vitamins and supplements over prescription drugs. And he is not happy with the insurance companies and how they and others have tried to derail health-care reform, though in that he is not so singular. Many doctors hate the current system and are none too pleased with what Obama and the Democrats are trying to ram home. But not because it‘s “socialist“ (oh, that word – a dagger to my ears and hemlock to my heart! And you thought this was a family-friendly blog), but if anything, because it‘s not socialist enough.

I don't know what's worse--that it's socialist, or they're French

Dr. E, as we call him, points out that “France and Germany are rated by the World Health Organization as #1 and #2 in the world respectively for effective health care delivery. The US is #37, beating out Slovenia.” Thirty seven. Let that sink in, as you try to reconcile it with all the blather about our having the best health-care system in the world. Well, I guess we do – if you’re rich and can afford to pay for it. Or if you belong to Congress and can give yourself access to the best. I recently read an op-ed piece that said a Canadian politician came to the US for a delicate health-care procedure, surely evidence that our system is better than the socialized crap up north. Well, no. It just means Canadian politicians make enough money to choose the best care they can afford. Would we were all so lucky.

In all the talk of “government takeover of health care,” the right-wing windbags don’t mention that Canadians and Brits and others can still buy whatever health care they want. But the idea of health-care reform is to provide decent health care to everyone (in the words of the WHO study, “effective health care delivery“). A single-payer system, I and many others think, would be the way to go, with people who have the money still being able to get extra insurance or jet across the country to find the best care they can afford.

A key issue, when looking at European systems and ours, is the vastly different moral starting point for the debate. As Dr. E writes, “But what really makes the European system so superior to ours is that no one is in health care to make a profit. Citizens expect their doctors and hospitals to be fairly paid, but there are no outside investors, venture capitalists, hedge funds, or shareholders whose interests come before those of the patient.”

Imagine that: Europeans think there is some societal value in making everyone  as healthy as possible, without people going broke. But we Americans, or many of us, just worship at that altar of the free market, as often as we can. And the result, in medical care, is that people are denied treatment or forced out of their insurance plans by exorbitant rates. As the recent Anthem actions have shown, health-insurance companies care about one thing: profits. Which they should, since that’s why corporations are created. But maybe in health care, we might say the profit motive shouldn’t be the determining factor for who gets what procedure.

He always seemed so nice, kept to himself; I can't believe he'd do something like this...

Dr. E’s letter singled out UnitedHealth Group  for criticism, and its expert ways of wringing out profit. Reading it, I thought about a loved one who recently left the health-insurance industry. She worked for a “good” company, as far as how it treated employees; it often turned up on lists that measure the top businesses to work for. But ultimately, it is still part of an industry that I saw as basically immoral, and I was glad said loved one is no longer a part of it. But that got me thinking: Can an industry be immoral? Or the individual companies within it? On the latter, I would say yes; after all, companies are people too! And we know that people can be immoral.

The whole companies-as-people fiction is, of course, something that seems patently absurd. But when you have great legal minds saying it’s so, then it must be so…As I‘ve said too many times here at the Crisis, I am no lawyer or legal scholar. But if you want to talk about strict construction, where does the Constitution talk about corporations as individuals, with individual rights? Corporations represent a group of people who have chosen to come together as investors in search of profit, I understand that. And each of those people may be moral, immoral, or somewhere in between, as most people are. But the entity they create, this super-person: Does it have free will? Does it fear (or not) death, or search for a meaning to life? Does it cry when someone it loves suffers and exult when human kindness redeems its faith in people everywhere? If so, please tell me where and when. Those are the things the people I know do, along with eating, screwing, yelling at the TV when the Red Sox lose, dreaming…and dying, when cancer spreads too fast and too far, or some virus does what it‘s supposed to – replicate in a human cell, eventually wiping out the host‘s ability to fight it off. Yes, a virus, how appropriate.  A virus really has just that one purpose – keep itself going. And a corporation, unlike a person, has just one purpose: make money.

So the health insurance “people” around us, they are doing the only thing they know how to do. Enabled, of course, by the real people among us who think that’s more important than trying to keep as many other real people as well as possible. Keep them alive as long as possible. Unless they can pay for it, of course.

Now I remember why I don’t rant like I used to. It makes me too depressed. I hate so many losing battles. It’s that feeling of hitting your head against the wall over and over, resulting in headaches, or concussions, or worse.

But at least I, thankfully, have health insurance. For now.

(For another MD’s take on the issue, go here.)

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~ by mburgan on March 15, 2010.

One Response to “Sick Stuff”

  1. Totally agree with you. If you notice, the people who don’t want health care passed, have it. And we already have a socialist health care system (medicare/medicaid). I’d love a socialist government. It beats a capitalist system that doesn’t work. These big companies you have a problem with aren’t with the lowly workers, it’s the board member who’s decisions are suppose to represent the shareholders interest, not society’s interest.

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