National Health

London Attack YouTubeWhen the helicopter ambulance landed at Parliament, the injured were all ferried to hospitals in the British national health care system.

Once there, the urgency and tension were all about their wounds, and not at all about whether they had insurance, what kind of coverage they had opted for, how large was their deductible, or were they indigent.

The patients themselves, whether British or not, did not have to lie on gurneys phoning their insurance agents, or lamenting the fact that they had chosen multi-thousand dollar deductibles in order to save a little on payments.

Three French students were injured. Not a problem for the hospital.

Here in the US, of course, care would be provided, but a phalanx of employees would be chasing down insurance dollars, and a legion of bookkeepers would be sending out bills hither and yon, some to the homes of the injured, who might have to spend a lifetime burdened by the debt of their care.

Today, as Congress prepares to vote on a plan that would shift the financial burden from the nation to the states and the hospitals themselves, this tragedy looms as a warning finger, pointing to evidence from former times, when the burden was on states and hospitals.

Long ago I worked in an acute care pediatric hospital in Boston, where children born with cancer, or defective hearts, or injured horribly, were routinely shipped from New Hampshire and Maine to Boston.

Those states, with much smaller populations (New Hampshire and Maine together do not have half the population of Massachusetts), did not build into their budgets money to pay for these tragedies. So the burden fell on Massachusetts, which did set aside funds, but not enough to pay for other states beside their own.

The hospitals had endowments, but that money, too, would be used up before year’s end. By November, tough decisions were being made about who would be treated.

When Jesus healed the young man born blind, a prolonged argument arose – after the healing – about whether the fellow had been faking his blindness, or his parents had, or the devil had gotten involved. What-the-hell is going on here? People demanded an answer. Only the young man said he’d received the mercy of heaven.

Make no mistake, this argument was about money. Jesus was working outside the system. The system which said this young man’s blindness was God’s doing, and therefore he could live on crumbs, on spare change in a cup.

Now he was standing up and expecting to take his place as a wage-earning man. And the local healers, who had assented to the local priests, were earning less because Jesus was in town.

This argument was about distribution. Distribution of care, of money, and of authority.

And today’s Congressional vote is about distribution. For the overburdened working poor, there will be a new option, to forego insurance, pocketing your money and gambling nothing will happen, while the hospital in your area gets much less, and the insurance companies are set free to collect much more.

The young man to whom Jesus restored sight will no longer have to depend on the generosity of neighbors and strangers. His parents will no longer have to weep for his future after they are gone. But the authorities, the priests and town officials, will be hounded by the other locals with disabilities, now demanding to be healed.

That’s the trouble with national health care – it does cost everyone something. And no one ends up with nothing, sitting by the side of the road. That’s what makes it the right thing.

When will we ever learn to do the right thing?
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Image: London, 22 March 2017, YouTube

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