by Ronald Glenn
The recent revelation that President Obama is considering forcing wounded veterans to cover treatments with private health insurance is yet another indication of just how schizophrenic this nation is when it comes to the issue of healthcare as a whole.
It is still very early in the game, but Obama has begun a national discussion on the American medical system, aside even from the veteran care-related aspects of yesterday’s news cycle. The ongoing debate over healthcare, of course, will involve a set of enormously complex set of goals and beliefs set forth by doctors, lobbyists, and “advocates” of every size and description. From the very beginning of this debate, we will be facing an adversarial relationship between the same groups who have been doing battle in America since the launch of the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson — one group advocates the use of government resources for children, while the other advocates the use of resources to take care of the elderly. At a time when there are not enough resources to go around, after all, it will simply be impossible to satisfy both.
Personally, this issue became clearer to me back in the 1980s, when my parents became ill and I began for the first time to spend lots and lots of time in hospitals and nursing homes. I realized then, and I believe the same still to be true, that Medicare is not considered a burdensome tax by most Americans, nor is it a program that most Americans view negatively.
Instead, Medicare is actually seen as a means of preserving lifestyles for most middle class American families. I remember, for example, having a long conversation with a man whose mother shared a nursing home room with my own mother, and he told me his mother’s hospital stay had caused a terrible rift in his marriage, that his wife had informed him that under no circumstances would he spend a penny of his own money on his mother’s medical care. His mother was old, this man’s wife said. She had lived her life, and he had two children to raise, they deserved the money he earned, and if the government could not take care of her, then he would have to be ready to make her funeral arrangements.
The cost of medical care has, unfortunately, outstripped the average American income. While this is an entirely different subject which needs to be addressed separately, in the case of the man I spoke with in the nursing home, one year of his ailing and aging mother’s medical expenses would take all of his salary and his wife’s salary combined. It was Medicare which would let him keep his house and cars, it was Medicare which would allow he and his family–not to mention his marriage–to survive.
As cruel as it sounds, this is the predicament in which the government finds itself — do you raise the young for a better future, or do you give to the elderly out of need? If you look at a dollar spent strictly from the point of view of benefits, after all, it may be more beneficial to educate a teenager for the workforce than maintain the life of an unproductive ninety year old.
It is, quite literally, a cost-benefit analysis and medicine, you see, goes against the capitalist business model. Healthcare is given out of need, not because someone deserves it. Doctors treat unemployed drug addicts and heads of state alike. Medicine doled out strictly on merit is medicine run by your local national socialist–Nazi–party.
During last year’s presidential campaign, I heard an interview with a doctor who summarized the problem rather well. He said the American medical system was the greatest system ever created to save a fifty-year old heart attack victim, but it had no idea what to do with an eighty-five year old patient with a multitude of physical problems. He said he personally knew of elderly patients who had eight different doctors, and that the medical system would never be fixed until we could figure out what to with the eight-five year old.
So, under President Obama, who will win? The young or the old? If I had to venture an educated guess, I think this nation controlled by the political left is beginning to lean more toward the children. That’s certainly what the Tom Daschle model, the model from which Obama’s healthcare ideals are shaped, tends to promote.
But, Tom Daschle aside, there’s a personal responsibility angle to this way of thinking as well, at least with regard to some of the patients requiring care. Should the adults of this world be let off the hook for drinking too much, eating too much, spending too much on their own personal pleasures, and then expecting the government to take care of them? Unfortunately, the personal responsibility angle in the Daschle model is not what attracts the Democrats to it — after all, when’s the last time “personal responsibility” ever got a Democrat reelected?
Instead, those on the political left may talk the talk and advocate taking care of the elderly, but I think they believe the children of America have been ignored for too long by the Republicans. Therefore, a government under their control is more likely to make healthcare available to every child than a hospital bed available to every elderly person.
Where do the conservatives stand on this? Frankly, I am not sure. The Republicans are the pro-life party, but they also advocate a capitalist approach to healthcare. I spoke about this question with a college student I sat next to on the train during my commute to work, and he told me the problem was simple: Old people needed to die faster. They are destroying the country out of their own weaknesses.
“What’s your college major?” I asked, feeling every minute of being the resident old guy.
“Finance,” he replied.
Gazing out the window at the landscape and time passing by, I wished that had not been true.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.