After months of talk, the debate is starting in earnest—if you want to call it “debate.” For the opponents of change, it’s more a process of pulling out the old bag of tricks and finding ways to manipulate the emotions of the public—at least that large percentage of the public that is easily and thoughtlessly swayed by slogans and TV ads.
An angry-looking Canadian woman claims that, in her own country, she was denied timely surgery for a brain tumor and “wouldn’t be alive today” if she hadn’t been able to get treatment in the U.S. Much more would have to be known about the situation to determine, from a rational perspective, whether that claim is true. Was the tumor really terminal? Was it untreatable? Were there better options, in the opinion of her doctors, than surgery? Is the woman wealthy? (That’s relevant, because in America, expensive life-saving procedures are often available only to the rich or well-insured.)
It’s likely true that, for whatever reasons, that one angry Canadian woman is dissatisfied with her country’s subsidized health care system. It’s also true that many, many people in Canada, England, France, Switzerland, and other countries are very satisfied with their health care. As someone who's been concerned about this subject for many years, I've talked with people in each of those countries, as well as with friends from other nations that have public health care systems. I have not personally met anyone who, like the woman in the TV ad, is bitter, dissatisfied, and convinced that the system in her country, as a whole, doesn’t work. (A recent article in the Denver Post, for example, expresses an entirely different view.)
Economists, doctors, small business owners, and almost everyone who’s ever been sick in America (or tried to stay well) knows the current system is untenable. It has to change. If business in Washington continues as it has lately, with some floating ideas and others shooting them down, the result will be much less satisfying than it could be with a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. And if we citizens demand such a spirit from our legislators, we're more likely to get it.
It’s always possible—and not very helpful—to track down a few nay-sayers and put them on television. What would be helpful is for interested citizens—regardless of political affiliations—to become informed about this complex issue and let lawmakers know specifically what they want and don’t want to see in the legislation currently being developed.
For example, there must be a public option to private insurance, in order to relieve the burden on small businesses and the self-employed (or those who would like to be self employed, if only they could get health insurance). There must be some way to control escalating pharmaceutical costs. People must be able to choose their own doctors. Whether you agree or not with these statements, they are the kinds of specific recommendations that could be helpful to legislators. Let's let them know what we want--not just what we don't want.
Change must happen, and the government must have a part in it. For too long, health insurance companies have called the shots—based on their natural desire for the biggest possible profits—when it comes to the health care of individuals. For too long, the divide has been growing between the rich and poor in terms of quality of life and the simple right to live.
It's much more difficult to learn, think, and make constructive recommendations than it is to simply say "no." In this case, "no" is not an option. Let's hope that as many Americans as possible will exercise their civic responsibility with a thoughtful, informed, and helpful kind of "yes."