My son, who is a middle schooler, has reminded me on occasion that he did not ask to be born. I can verify that this is true, having not known him well enough to ask before I carried him to term and labored for 19 hours. As his mother I can vouch that he was born all infant-y, unable even to comb his hair or use the toilet. I had to do everything: feed him from my own body, wash him, put clothes on him, and teach him to walk and talk. No way was he paying that hospital bill when we were first discharged. He did not ask for this, after all.
Because scientists discovered that there are certain ugly diseases that we no longer must suffer I brought my little boy to the doctor for all his vaccinations. Many other times through his 12 years of development, the petri dish of elementary school sent us back to the pediatrician’s office, or to urgent care, or to the emergency room for tests and/or medicine. My son can tell me when he’s sick now, and he can tell me exactly what hurts, which is helpful, but he still makes me pay for everything, the little moocher.
My point in this irreverent story is to illustrate how my son, a healthy citizen of this country and a patient in the medical system has thus far in his existence been unable to pay his own way. The very notion that an infant or a child should be financially responsible for himself is absurd. But isn’t that the way it would be if we only viewed healthcare as a privilege instead of a basic human right?
If healthcare is just a privilege for the citizens who have jobs, who are productive members of society, then what are we going to do about all those babies and children who can’t do for themselves yet? And what about the people who are chronically ill? When I was a kid I had bad asthma and needed to carry around a rescue inhaler in case I got too carried away laughing, running, or playing with cats. I’m sure I wasn’t an inexpensive kid. There were allergy shots, predictable episodes of bronchitis every Valentine’s Day, and daily medication to keep my condition controlled. And that was just asthma. Luckily, I could still function as long as I had medicine.
But not everyone can. Cancer hits even healthy, hardworking people and robs them of workdays while they are in treatment. Car accidents, war injuries, mental illness, and pregnancy can knock people out of the workforce temporarily or permanently.
And what about the retired? At some point the work years will come to an end. If you’ve been healthy and fortunate enough to find work in your life, you might want a break already! Will my son have forgiven me for bringing him into this world by then? Will he care for me if I start to lose my cognitive abilities? Or will I just have to beach myself like an old whale when I’m done?
We have a hybrid system of medical care in our country, made up of self pay, private insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare. It is a behemoth, if ever there was one. And someone undoubtedly has to pay for it. As we move forward revising our system, we must keep in mind the breadth of people living in our country. We are a nation made up of persons in every stage of development, from conception to death. The vulnerable at the ends of the spectrum and those experiencing hard times in between are humans with dignity, and their care should top our priorities when creating laws. We cannot leave out children who were born to parents who have no money. We can’t omit the sick – what else is healthcare for, if not the sick? We can never forsake our women whose bodies usher in new life. And we can never leave our parents and grandparents to fend for themselves in old age after all they’ve done for us.
A fair and just society will include all of the people in all of the stages of life in it’s healthcare vision. And a representative government that cares for it’s citizens will continue to work on a solution for paying for it. Our officials are public servants, after all. They’re here to represent our needs while shaping public policy; they aren’t in office simply to be re-elected again and again. And as elected officials tasked with understanding and creating policy, they certainly cannot simply throw their hands up and announce that they’re finished talking about it. That’s not what The People pay them to do.