"The design of a healthcare system is a moral issue."
So said T.R. Reid near the end of his keynote address at the MCMLA meeting in Breckenridge last week.
And, "Without the moral commitment, you end up with America's healthcare system."
Reid's presentation style is very relaxed. He brings a light touch, and a finely tuned sense of humor, even when dealing with very weighty issues. Still, when he contemplated the fundamental unfairness of the American system, his righteous indignation and frustration showed through.
He said that he undertook the writing of his new book to answer one question: "How is it that every industrialized country provides better healthcare for all of its citizens and spends half as much as we do?" He says he thinks he nailed that one.
But as he did his research, he realized the more important question was why do they? And he thinks he figured that one out as well. But then it leads to the most pressing question of them all -- why doesn't the United States? Why is it that the richest country in the world fails so miserably to provide what every other nation considers to be one of the fundamental responsibilities of a civilized society? He said he's still trying to puzzle that one out.
And he's not particularly hopeful that we'll achieve any significant improvement in the current round. He believes that Congress lacks the political will. We'll continue stumbling along through the paradox of having the capacity to provide the best healthcare in the world, while failing on every measure to actually do so. What does it say about us as a nation that we are willing to tolerate an infant mortality rate that puts us just behind Cuba and only slightly ahead of Croatia?
It might be easier to deal with if we were at least having a debate about the real issues. But we're not. What passes for debate in this country (particularly on this issue) is sloganeering designed to make political points. Actual facts aren't that hard to find. Reid had a very good op-ed in the Washington Post a month ago in which he dismissed the major myths that are fueling that most emotional of the anti-healthcare reform screeds. But in an era when most people get their news from cable tv or talk radio, serious attention to actual facts takes too much time and is too boring. It doesn't provide the cathartic release of frustration and anger that people seem to want.
Reid emphasized several times that if we, as a nation, choose to provide universal healthcare and contain costs, we certainly can do it, without falling prey to the horrors of socialized medicine or rationed healthcare that are used to scare people away. The fundamental question is whether or not we believe that we have a collective responsibility to take care of each other. The answer is clear -- we, in this "Christian" nation, believe that we do not. This is the paradox that puzzles T.R. Reid.