Editorial: Consider greater good on health care reform

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

In the wake of the U.S. House passing a health reform bill a week ago, there’s a piece of e-mail spam that has been sent almost daily to our inbox by readers. It’s a letter to the editor from a Mississippi doctor who is outraged by a Medicaid patient who shows up in the emergency room.

The letter’s details vary a bit each time it’s e-mailed, but the gist of it is that the patient is a smoker, has a gold tooth, expensive shoes and a new cellular phone.

“And our president expects me to pay for this woman’s health care?” the letter says. “Our nation’s health care crisis … is a crisis of culture – a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on pleasures and vices while refusing to take care of one’s self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance.”

Sadly, this single example, true or not, of one person in an emergency room is enough for many to shrug off the need – both financial and moral – to make affordable health care available to everyone.

The example presents a bogus choice. Obviously, the patient should not be smoking, but the cost of the items in the letter pales in comparison to the $15,000 annual average cost of health insurance to a household.

Contrast that story with that of Verta Wells, a local woman who worked multiple jobs, excelling at them, as she tried to go to school to get a job where she would have health insurance. Her story was in last Sunday’s State Journal-Register.

Wells wasn’t lazy. She didn’t fit a stereotype of people who lack insurance.

“Every customer she waited on, she treated them like they were her grandmother. She couldn’t do enough for them,” said Hartzel Bruno, director of operations for the four local Steak 'n Shake franchises, one of which employed Wells.

Wells died of breast cancer, probably prematurely, because she did not have consistent, reliable insurance. She is one of anywhere between 18,000 to 44,800 Americans who die each year before their time because of a lack of insurance.

If terrorists killed 18,000 Americans annually – 15,000 more than died on Sept. 11, 2001 – it would be an outrage that would spur Americans to quickly come up with a solution and take swift action.

But when lack of health care is the cause of so much unnecessary death, too many of us furrow our brow, wag our finger and make assumptions and moral judgments about the uninsured that have little basis in fact.

Fear of the unknown, stoked by those with political and financial motivations to defeat reform, causes us to ignore the fact that the United States pays more for health care than any other country in the world and gets the same or worse outcomes.

We worry that real cost controls throughout the system might deny our desire to have more tests, brand-name drugs, MRIs, CT scans and procedures that don’t actually make us better. As a country, we gorge on medical care the way we eat too much fried food.

It is a national character flaw that shocks the conscience. While we treasure our country's unique individualism, when it comes to health care, there needs to be a willingness to consider the greater good. Verta Wells's story reminds us of that.

Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register