And Now Back to the Healthcare Debate…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 5, 2009

Sometimes the comic I end up drawing isn’t the one I wanted to draw. I wish I could blame this on somebody — my editor, my parents, the Man. But the truth is, it’s me: there are times I simply can’t come up with a suitable idea for the topic I’m feeling particularly passionate about. I imagine it’s something like a songwriter wanting to pen a love song for his soul mate, but instead of, say, The Beatles “I Will” or Ben Folds “The Luckiest” he keeps ending up with “Macarthur Park.” (Now just try to get that train wreck of a song out of your head for the rest of the day.)
What I really wanted to draw about this week was a quote I read in a Newsweek excerpt from T.R. Reid’s new book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. It was a fascinating article (and I’m hoping a fascinating book). The basic premise is that a country ends up with the heath care system that reflects the character of the country. So for example, Canadians make no excuses for having to wait a long time for nonemergency care. That’s how they limit costs. And they don’t mind so long as the rich and poor have to wait the same period. Canadians are thrifty and egalitarian (and care mostly about just staying warm). In Germany, health insurance (private, by the way there is no “public option” in Germany but care is universal) will pay for a week at a spa to deal with stress. The British think that’s incredibly stupid and do not pay for it. (Stiff upper lip, the Brits.)

We Americans, of course, have a higgledy-piggledy system where we all think that (because we are smarter than everybody else) we can end up ahead. Everybody thinks this. But everybody can’t end up ahead. There are extreme winners and extreme losers. There are clever advantages to this and cruel efficiencies. Let’s not judge. After all, it very much reflects our American character. (And the same approach has really worked out swell for our financial system, right?!) Ahem. Anyway, the quote that I got stuck on was this:

“The United States is the only developed country where medical bankruptcies can happen.”

Think about that. The only country in the developed world where surviving cancer can and does ruin people. By quitting a job to take care of a loved one or choosing an uncovered procedure or making unlucky decisions on insurance coverage, you can beat the cancer (or not) and then get to foreclose and start over. That doesn’t seem to me to fit with our American character. At least, it shouldn’t.

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