Friday, December 4, 2009

Health Care and Fire Trucks

You may not know that fire departments used to be commercial, rather than government-run. Before the Civil War in America, independent fire brigades would rush to put out fires, competing with each other needlessly. What is more, each house was adorned with a badge indicating which insurance the owner had, and if the first brigade to arrive did not have a contract with that insurance company, they would simply let the house burn. Over time it became clear that this was an inefficient and immoral way to provide what is an essential service for the citizens of any city.

Today there would be general uproar if there was an attempt to privatize fire prevention. This basic human service simply cannot and should not be handled by private companies which are more concerned with profit than with saving lives.

The analogy should be obvious here. Health care is a basic human service, necessary for saving lives. And yet we live in a country - the only in the industrialized world - without single-payer, government run health care. I don't have time to cover all of the arguments for and against single-payer here, but it is worth mentioning that most of the arguments against come from the very insurance companies that stand to lose from the implementation of single-payer, whereas the arguments for are primarily moral, grassroots, and democratic.

Instead I want to point out the essential similarity between the state of fire prevention pre-Civil War, and the state of Health Care today. Ultimately, in the 1800s change was quick to come, thanks largely to the obvious injustice of the situation. Today, change is slow to come, and likely to be delayed substantially by the passage of the current health care reform. Why? Lobbying and corporate deregulation. The profits of the insurance industry are sacred today in a way that they were not 120 years ago. As a result, the lives and health of Americans are a mere piece of economics. Human capital.

Public education, public mail delivery, public crime and fire prevention. All of these things came about because people demanded that the government - for all its inefficiencies - provide basic human services to all of its citizens. Today, citizens are demanding no such thing. Why? That's a subject for another day. Needless to say, in the digital age there is faster communication and information gathering than every before, but also faster distribution of propaganda. And it's not always easy to tell those apart.

Disclaimer: I know this is far from a complete argument, and is unlikely to convince the unconvinced. I hope it is a different perspective, however, on an all-too-tired debate.

No comments:

Post a Comment