Of Casual Conversations and Elizabeth Warren

Yesterday a health insurance expert, along with my wife and me, had a very casual conversation about health insurance. It was casual, of course, because my wife and I qualify for Medicare. (Something about, or so I'm told.) We laughed and joked with the agent, and he told us the advantages of one plan over another—$10.00 here, $25.00 there, and a worst case scenario that in itself would not drive us to debtor’s prison.


But in this quiet and pleasant setting (we each got a free pen afterwards) I couldn’t help wondering if the same kind of casualness about worst-case scenarios governs the lives of people unable to afford health insurance.


I doubt it.


Today there appeared yet another article about diminishing life expectancies in the United States while all other Western democracies are increasing theirs. There’s a connection here, actually more than one. The obvious cause-and-effect centers on opioids and the 770,000 deaths attributable to them since 1999. That’s almost a million people who would be alive today, and doesn’t even take into account the pressure on those recovering and the effect on the mental wellbeing of their family members—wives, husbands, children.


That obvious cause leads to a more subtle but eminently more nefarious one: our entire health-care system is responsible. The opioid crisis began with doctors over-prescribing drugs for which they received huge inducements, continuing down the chain to pharmacies unwilling to monitor their only raison d’etre: prescriptions. (Yes, you can buy a beach chair in today’s modern “drug store,” but why should you?)


The tentacles spread further from there—to unprincipled insurers selling cheap and worthless temporary policies to the uninformed—to rapacious hospital administrators overworking their support staff so that fewer nurses wind up with more responsibilities and/or longer hours—to greedy lawyers working tirelessly on suits to garnish the wages of cancer victims who can’t pay their medical bills.


Not many casual conversations occur in living rooms of families are about to lose their living rooms.


And we have a president who promises great health care and has moved in only one direction in three years—to eliminate all of it.


Which brings me to Elizabeth Warren. For months I have stated gthat her Medicare-for-All is a loser at the polls. It may be so. Some say that her plan will cost the jobs of millions, and it’s true. But those are jobs that deal with the administration of health care—the paperwork, the mailings, the advertising—not with the care itself. It would be a sea change in American employment, and we would have to be responsible for retraining these people. But progress doesn't necessarily leave people behind—it almost always effects the opposite.


If the Warren plan is a loser, it’s loser on the right side of benevolence—on the right side of easing the burden of tens of millions of Americans whose pursuit of happiness is only as effective as the luck they have in avoiding illness.


Those of us with children should bristle at the fact that the kids face a life expectancy shorter than ours, and fewer years of wellbeing. Wouldn’t we all trade the comfort of our own doctor or our own health care plan to ensure a better life for our kids?

This is not a campaign ad for Warren or anyone else, but it’s an invitation to take a look at ourselves and decide if we can be better. Having elected someone like Donald Trump says that many of us can’t—that self-interest eclipses everything else. Fine—you go that way. But America has a history of doing better, and health care for all could constitute the first step toward rebuilding the country we seem so suddenly lackadaisical about abandoning.

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