“Obamacare” and the Ideology of Compassionby Don Lacey on Jul. 01, 2012, under Arizona Families, AZ Politics, Campaign 2012, Conservatism vs. Liberalism, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Freethought, Government, History, Middle Class, Question of the Day!, Reason, Responsible Government, Supreme Court, That's Life!
A few days ago, the Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, a landmark change in the nation’s health policy and one of the keystone achievements of president Obama’s first term in office.
I am in favor of health insurance reform, whether it takes the form of the Affordable Care Act or a single-payer system, because I am in favor of evidence-based compassion.
Most people, conservatives in congress included, are in favor of compassion. In our society, we celebrate those who dedicate their lives to the care and protection of others. Nearly every young child will say, at one point or another, they want to be a firefighter or policeman. The news is inundated with stories of everyday people who help their fellow man when disaster strikes – people who dive into the water to save a drowning child, who rescue people and animals from burning buildings or floods. In some cases, the heroes lend financial or moral support – a church that raises money for the poor for example. But in all of the most celebrated cases of heroism, the heroic act is directed toward a problem or a person in truly dire straits. They’re on the verge of death or extreme suffering, and the hero of the story lifts them out of harm’s way.
This kind of compassion is commendable and necessary, yet too often we forget the less noticeable opportunities for compassion, which, while requiring less philanthropy, less altruism, and less valor in the face of danger, offer no less a chance to save lives and alleviate suffering. For example, for every person rescued from a burning building, there are probably several dozen whose lives were saved in a much less dramatic way. These other lucky folks avoided a fiery fate, and they can thank evidence-based fire mitigation measures – smoke detectors, safe electrical wiring, and better construction practices, for example. They’ll never know that their lives were saved. Yet any statistician will tell you that an ounce of evidence-based prevention is worth a pound of heroes (or something like that).
It seems strange, then, that we see such an odd juxtaposition of compassion for patients in the emergency room and callousness toward patients in the neighborhood clinic. For example, suppose a woman rushes to the emergency room with a child who is in the midst of a violent seizure. The child will not, under any circumstances, be denied care – to deny treatment to such a patient would be cruel and potentially life threatening. If the family doesn’t have insurance, and if they don’t have enough money to cover the cost of treatment – which, in modern times, is often very high – the hospital will pay for the treatment and pass the cost off to other customers.
Now consider we learn that this child had, prior to his seizure, often complained of headaches accompanied by blurred vision., along with other worrisome symptoms. He had trouble with his schoolwork and his mother suspected there might be something wrong with his health. These issues went unchecked, of course, because the family had no insurance – they had no way to pay for preventive care. And had they shown up at the clinic and explained their situation, they would have been denied care – no one would have absorbed or redistributed the costs, because it wouldn’t qualify as an emergency. We could have prevented the traumatic (and likely expensive) emergency room visit if our society recognized the value of compassion in non-emergency situations. In other words, we could save money and prevent suffering if we dealt with illness in the same way we deal with fire – invest in prevention.
Some politicians believe there is a fundamental, almost dogmatic, distinction between emergency care and other types of treatment. To them, affordable ER care is compassion, while affordable preventive care is coddling. Somehow, it’s ok for us to distribute costs and risks so long as charity can only be found in the direst of emergencies. This separation of emergency care from treatment and prevention is an ideological doctrine that ignores evidence-based science and severely hinders our medical system. It just isn’t practical or efficient – it isn’t a good use of our society’s money and effort.
At this point, I have to admit that I have a personal stake in the matter. I am one of the 30 million Americans who would not have affordable health insurance if it weren’t for “Obamacare.” If I bought a private insurance plan, I would pay more in premiums than I pay in rent just for bare-bones coverage with hefty co-pays. I have no doubt that an emergency-room doctor would gladly treat me, insurance or no insurance, but the key advantage I currently enjoy is easy access to basic treatment and prevention.
I can tell you that inexpensive insurance coverage and reasonable medical fees go a long way toward swaying one’s opinion in an election season. As more and more people like me find themselves comfortably insured, I expect a cooling down of “Obamacare” rhetoric. We’ve already heard stories from people suffering from chronic illness, on the verge of losing coverage or running into their lifetime limit. For these individuals, the Supreme Court decision was literally a matter of life or death. You can bet the ailing will think twice before voting for Mitt Romney this fall.