I have been asked to testify Monday about my experience with health insurance to a panel of clergy who will meet to discuss the moral issues of providing health care. What a terrific idea!
In all the lobbying and bargaining in Washington, D.C., we seem to have forgotten about the moral imperative to take care of the sick. One issue that is bandied about is that a public health care option would be too expensive. Why are we counting cost? This is America. When nine miners got trapped in Quecreek Mine in western Pennsylvania, nobody talked about the high cost of saving their lives. If poor Americans are trapped inside sickly bodies, all of a sudden everybody is talking ''cost-benefit.''
Better health care plans and increased availability of services will eventually lower costs because early intervention is always cheaper than response to a catastrophe. If an uninsured man with high blood pressure and high cholesterol can't afford medications or to go to a doctor, a hospital emergency room would eventually have to absorb the cost of a preventable heart attack. Even if this were not true, even if real health care reform with a government-sponsored public insurance program was going to increase costs, ethically, we are still accountable for eating that cost.
Just look at the money we put into less ethical imperatives. We bail out other countries. We fund unnecessary and expensive wars. We bail out the richest bankers. There is no moral reason for these bailouts. The 10 percent of Americans who live in poverty do have a moral claim to the basics of life; we all ought to be blushing about these 32 million forgotten people. When the Constitution was written, medical care was very primitive. A right to health care would have meant very little. Now access to modern health care is a necessity to having an even playing field for all our citizens. It is inconceivable that one could have a right to ''the pursuit of happiness'' mentioned in the Declaration of Independence without having the basic care that makes that pursuit physically possible.
As a doctor, I have worked firsthand with insurance companies. I know how stubborn and greedy they can be. I have been told outrageous things: ''Dr. Berman, send Mrs. Jones to the state hospital so the state can pick up the cost of her care. She is 50, menopausal and her kids are moving out of the house. These women never get better.'' I also have paid a cost in time and money for ignoring insurance companies and treating anyway. One of the first things I tell medical students is never justify a medical decision based on ''the insurance company told me to do this'' or on a threat of nonpayment.
One would think the current flu pandemic would make us realize that we all can get sick and we all need access to care. But Congress seems to miss the point. It was Mark Twain who said: ''Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.''
It is time for us to back our senators and congressmen who support a fully realized health care reform package with a public option. It is time for us to turn our backs on any legislator who votes against this. November 2010 is our chance to hold our leaders accountable.
We are in the middle of an epic battle for the soul of a nation. AIG has its bailout. What about small children whose parents can't take them anywhere but a crowded emergency room and then only after they have gotten really sick? What about those parents leaving the emergency room with prescriptions they can't afford? Are we going to step up, or not? This is not about socialism, and even the Republicans in Congress who oppose health care reform know it. This is about controlling capitalism so that it doesn't victimize the poor and sick. George Bernard Shaw said of doctors, ''never trust a man who has a [financial] interest in cutting off your leg.'' But far worse is leaving us to the whims of health insurance companies that have a financial interest in collecting our premiums and a bigger interest in limiting their payouts. The rights of the people must prevail over the wishes of health insurance corporations.