Health R Us

Congress is in danger of being seriously out of step with a changing national consciousness over the national health care issue. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, three quarters of Americans now support some kind of government run health care program to compete with private sector health insurance. It's a good sign for America, a kind of maturing of the national sensibility (though it doesn't yet seem to have seeped across the Beltway).

I've never understood what worries people so much about nationally run health care. To me, if there is anything that a government should be doing (and, let's face it, there are lots of things they need not be doing) it's looking after the health and welfare of its people. Sorry to sound like a socialist, but isn't the whole purpose of choosing a few to lead the many done so they can take care of those things which affect everyone collectively–ie. health, education, transport and basic utilities–leaving the rest of us free to pursue our own path to wealth and happiness?

I grew up in England with its so-called "evil" socialized medicine program. Without this, it is quite possible that at least one of my parents would not have lived past the age of thirty and the rest of our family could have been buried in medical bills for years. Ok, so it wasn't always the most efficient system in the world but you cannot believe how comforting it was to have it available. Countries with public health care programs consistently rate higher in terms of personal happiness compared to, say, America. And when you get down to it, isn't happiness one of the corner stones of good health?

Underlying the problem is that fact that our government has morphed from being "by the people for the people" into something more resembling an enabler for commercial interests. Legislation most likely favors padding the corporate bottom line rather than culturing the hearts and minds of the people. But haven't we all contributed to this situation with our unholy worship of the dollar? We remain convinced money buys us freedom (and hence happiness, good health, and so on) even in the face of massive evidence that it is being used instead to herd us into economic and moral serfdom.

We have cool gadgets, fast cars and big TVs to play with, but we've seen these toys come with a heavy price: huge mortgage payments, rampant credit card debt, massive insurance bills, social inertia, depression, and a medicine cabinet full of pills with cute names and life-threatening side effects, supposed to ward off conditions we may not even suffer from, but that we should "ask our doctor" about anyway. No wonder we are not feeling so good.

I've always been fascinated (and appalled) by the frontier mentality that still exists in America. This "make it or die" philosophy when applied to health and social welfare makes it far too easy to discard fellow human beings who fall through the cracks, even though they may, for example, have served the nation heroically (check out the number of homeless Vietnam Vets) or, in more fortunate circumstances, be otherwise model citizens. How can this be a nation of "family values" if it only applies to immediate relatives and not the extended national family?

A first step has to be to take the money out of the equation. No-one should be making huge profits out of the misfortune of others. Taking care of the health of everyone should be a moral and compassionate imperative not a matter of profit. In some ancient cultures, doctors were only paid if their patients were kept healthy, and not when when their patients fell sick. The most successful doctors carried bags of gold on their belts as proof of their skill. This makes more sense to me than doling out billions of dollars per year in health care costs in order to be one of the most unhealthy countries on the planet (while medical practitioners and insurance executives tool around in Beemers and Mercedes).

We can also take better care of ourselves. This would be the most effective cost cutting exercise of all (aside from getting rid of those inane pharmaceutical commercials). Most of our illnesses are life style related. You cannot exactly stay healthy on a diet of Big Macs, soda pop and GMO food additives, with little or no exercise to lighten the load, no matter what the commercials tell you.

It's going to be a long road to recovering good health in America, but I think it is encouraging that people are starting to view national health care as a collective social responsibility and not just another business opportunity.

And Congress take note. Our mandate is to start taking responsibility for the way we live our lives (that's where the freedom of choice comes in). Your mission, should you accept it, is to provide us with the means to stay healthy through education and universally available, affordable health care, and not to force us to pay outrageous amounts of money to profiteering insurance companies (who just happen to fund your re-election campaigns).