“We are now contemplating, Heaven save the mark, a bill that would tax the well for the benefit of the ill.”
No, that’s not Senate Minority Leader John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh or any of the other usual suspects complaining about the cost of health care reform. Rather, it’s the beginning of an editorial in the Aug. 15, 1949 issue of The New York State Journal of Medicine denouncing attempts to provide every American with health insurance. Sure, 90 percent were uninsured then, versus around 15 percent, today. But what’s amazing is the way the overheated arguments by conservatives have changed hardly at all in six decades, as evidenced by an op-ed in the July 15, 2009 Wall Street Journal entitled “Universal Health Care Isn’t Worth Our Freedom.”
Here’s the August, 1949 New York State Journal:
Any experienced general practitioner will agree that what keeps the great majority of people well is the fact that they can’t afford to be ill. That is a harsh, stern dictum and we readily admit that under it a certain number of cases of early tuberculosis and cancer, for example, may go undetected. Is it not better that a few such should perish rather than that the majority of the population should be encouraged on every occasion to run sniveling to the doctor? That in order to get their money’s worth they should be sick at every available opportunity? They will find out in time that the services they think they get for nothing – but which the whole people of the United States would pay for – are also worth nothing.
And here’s Dr. Thomas Szasz from the July 15, 2009 Wall Street Journal:
The idea that every life is infinitely precious and therefore everyone deserves the same kind of optimal medical care is a fine religious sentiment and moral ideal. As political and economic policy, it is vainglorious delusion. Rich and educated people not only receive better goods and services in all areas of life than do poor and uneducated people, they also tend to take better care of themselves and their possessions, which in turn leads to better health….We must stop talking about “health care” as if it were some kind of collective public service, like fire protection, provided equally to everyone who needs it….If we persevere in our quixotic quest for a fetishized medical equality we will sacrifice personal freedom as its price. We will become the voluntary slaves of a “compassionate” government that will provide the same low quality health care to everyone.
Of course, there’s been some progress. Six decades ago, the kind of views expressed by Szasz and the New York Journal represented the medical mainstream. Today, even the most troglodyte are not suggesting the repeal of Medicare and Medicaid.
On the other hand, in those “pre-spin” days so long ago the health-insurance-for-all opponents of the past were forthright about the consequences of their principles for others. Today’s conservative fulminators prefer to forego mentioning the 20,000 preventable deaths each year – about 55 people each and every day – among those without insurance coverage.
The other great difference sixty years has made is the racial and ethnic composition of the uninsured. The uninsured today are disproportionately minority. Nearly one in four (36 percent) are Hispanic, 22 percent are black, 17 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders and just 13 percent white. The impact of those figures is clear. While nearly one third of Texans have no health insurance, the Republicans who dominate its Congressional delegation have shown no particular urgency to address a problem primarily affecting low-income Hispanics. (Fifty-eight 58 percent of the uninsured in the state are Hispanic, according to Kaiser Family Foundation figures.)
It’s important to remember that none of the Republican presidential candidates in either the primary or general election presented a serious plan to cover all the uninsured, nor have any of the Congressional GOP critics of Obama’s plan done so. In other words, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on universal access to health care, then, is not a difference on government should help accomplish this goal but whether the goal itself is worth pursuing.
Put differently, for those Americans who can’t afford medical care (or are afraid that they won’t be able to in the future), the GOP has a clear reply: drop dead.
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