It is perhaps appropriate, following the triumphant relaunch of the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, to recall one of the most famous lines from the early movies. Spock was lying, dying, in some sort of glass tube, having exposed himself to a massive dose of radiation in order to save the ship. He explains to Kirk, “Sometimes the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few … or the one.”
I thought of this as I opened the healthinsurance.org mailbox this weekend. I got a note, probably from someone in the insurance industry, that read like many others we’ve received:
“You are in the insurance business and you are supporting the Obama plan. You have lost your mind. Get ready for 6 month waiting lists for the most basic CT/MRI’s etc. You get old,,?… you die. Rationing is more cost effective and letting you die will make room for a younger more productive resident.
“Get off of it. Dopebama is ruining this country and idiots like you are helping bring us down. Sheesh.. brain dead !”
People are scared of change. Yet change is the nature of things. America sees its share of change all the time as industries we’ve grown up with adapt or go out of business. Who a generation ago would have thought that Detroit would now be producing so few cars? Cell phones and VOIP are erasing the landlines that were the arteries of the once-powerful telephone industry. Things change, and our health care system is no different.
Actually, our healthcare system is long overdue for change. America is the only industrialized nation (my, isn’t that phrase even seeming quaint) where its citizens are one major illness away from bankruptcy. And even when we don’t go broke, we spend more on health care than the citizens of any other country – 30 percent more than the citizens of the next largest spender, Switzerland.
Think our health care is so good it’s worth paying more? With the exception of some standout places such as the Mayo Clinic, perhaps not. If you have a child, there are 36 countries where your child has a better chance of surviving until age five, including all those countries with government-run health care. In child mortality, the USA ranks down there with Estonia and Poland. Your child is twice as likely to live past age five in a Scandinavian country.
Will America’s costly health care system let you live a longer life? Sorry, wrong again. There are 44 countries with longer life expectancies than the USA. Even Canada, which critics of health care reform like to demonize, get a couple more years on Earth than us.
Speaking of Canada, back in 1970, before it created national health insurance, it spent about the same 7+ percent of national GNP on health care that the U.S. did. Since that time, that percentage has crept to just over nine-and-a-half while the U.S. percentage has leapt to nearly 15 percent. And remember that Canada covers every single citizen while 45 million Americans have no health insurance.
People are scared of change, because they are scared of the unknown, whether it’s something as inconsequential as the reboot of a 40-year-old beloved television franchise or important like reform of our health care system. Paramount Studios, the corporate owners of Star Trek, hired a visionary director and gave him the space he needed to work in (no pun intended), and despite the nattering anxieties of fanboys, Abrams did boldly go further than others had gone before, keeping what worked but infusing new energy and ideas to catapult the series into the future.
We citizens also hired a visionary director when we elected Barack Obama last fall – and now, we need to give him the space to operate within. As the president said yesterday, health care “is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait.” It’s far more important to meets people’s needs rather than to protect the interests of health care and health insurance industries as our e-mail writer above cries.
Health care is a massive problem, and it will take massive changes to make it work for all. The less bold the action, the less chance for meaningful change. Mammals replaced dinosaurs. Democracy replaced monarchies. Hybrids are replacing gas cars, which will in turn be replaced by electric. Change is natural, and it’s time for our system of delivering health care to evolve.
Let’s make the changes we need, so we can all live long and prosper.