Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When do we care?

Last night during the Republican debate, a question was asked about a hypothetical situation.

If a man who is 30, healthy, and free to make the decision to decline having health coverage suddenly needs intensive health care for an extended period, who is supposed to pay for it? I think we have a number of responses to this including something along the lines of "well, you should have insurance" or "it's your choice."

The CNN/Tea Party sponsored debate's audience would presumably take a position that was opposed to the idea that government might have a role to play in health care. To be very honest, I'm disgusted by the way we think of health care in the United States first as a market and only secondly as a way to ensure the health of our society. I think health care is a fundamental human right and making it something that is outside the role of the government is uncivil. But the response to this hypothetical question left me feeling even more aghast at what we're embracing as normal.

A number of individuals in the audience yelled very energetically that our hypothetic citizen of the United State should die. Is this what happens when we disconnect "freedom" from a shared sense of identity and citizenship? So many people today, especially those who identify as part of the Tea Party, claim they are returning to our founding principles. But what is glaringly absent from that partial reclamation is the commonwealth. Where is our concern for the other? Ron Paul mentioned that the "churches" should step up to take care of this man. This statement received applause. I would agree that civil society has a role to play in the health of a democracy and there is something about a religiously-affiliated hospital caring for those without because that is part of their mission and identity. But to lay that expectation on these types of institutions doesn't show me freedom of choice. What it shows me is that "freedom" often masks an ardent individualism that trumps care for the other. It's not about personal responsibility, it's about selfishness.

Sadly, such honest language won't appear during any of these debates nor will people admit that is what's behind their beliefs. We have a number of responsibilities to one another and health care is one of the most fundamental of those responsibilities. Sadly this hypothetical question is very real. And as we continue to see the poverty rate increase and businesses responding to this new disparity with novel approaches to marketing rather than appealing to the (now increasingly shrinking) middle class, maybe that otherwise healthy 30 year-old citizen has difficult choices about what's worth the investment of a smaller pool of wealth.