27 August 2009

Personally Responsible

Providing America with equal coverage in health care was the topic of the editorial in the Rutland Herald on Aug. 8, 2009 titled "All together now." One question the editorial presented is how President Obama is to persuade the majority of Americans who are not facing a health care crisis to support reform of the system for those who are in "dire straits." President Obama's answer is to show the majority of people that they too are in "dire straits" in numerous ways.

This approach attempts to appeal to citizens' self-interest and bring them into such a low mental state of thought to blur the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation is better off than many imagine, those whose visions have been potentially corrupted by President Obama's previous reform tactics. These tactics are part of the problem. Lowering America's mentality to bring America into this state of mind of helplessness has reflected in our stock markets and only foresees other future effects.

President Obama wants to create this unrealistic health reform in which all the people are covered all the time. Unfortunately, this is not the case, nor will it ever be. Close to 47 million people in the United States are uncovered by health insurance. However, about 250 million people do have coverage and they have worked hard for it. Why should the majority of the people care about the 47 million who are not? What is in it for them? This is the same question that President Obama is trying to answer. Although his intentions are credible, the approach has many challenges that require careful thought.

As a president, President Obama needs to look out for our nation on a whole and accept the fact that not all the people can be equally covered all the time. Yes, the health care reform is in the interest of each individual, but if people do not comply within the circumstances of reform, a reform cannot exist. This situation needs to be looked upon as an issue of balance and how to balance the needs of 250 million people to those of 47 million. The desirable balance is a point that provides the 47 million people with some form of health care while not sacrificing the quality of care of those currently covered or raising unacceptable cost to implement these laudable goals.

Although the editorial attempts to frame the issue to look after individuals who are vulnerable to disaster, it fails to touch upon the dimension of personal responsibility, a core component of our system. Personal responsibility has created a huge value by harnessing the individual drives of individual spirits. But in an effort to create broad-band coverage, President Obama is removing trust in America's system, making it only possible with more government aid. With that removal, also removed is the individual accountability factor needed to drive our future society.

Surely, this requires robust debate and deserves thoughtful discussions. Just because the Democrats have near absolute control until the next election is not a legitimate reason to rush into this. It is possible to reform our health care system, but we need to do it with the right intentions.

The intentions should include providing America with better quality and pleasure of life, not only for sheer change sake. President Obama's campaign platform included change from Republican and President Bush's policies and is almost cliché now; it is not a race to win any longer. Successful change may not be possible. However, if it is, we need carefully managed plans for success. But then again, change for change's sake has never been proven to be sustainable or always led to good outcomes.



There are many letters to the editor that get me all fired up. They inflame my liberal sensitivities, they inflame my inner grammar nazi, or they inflame that small part of me that optimistically hopes most people are rational by proving once more that most people are actually quite ignorant and in their ignorance just plain stupid. This letter didn’t do any of those things. It did touch upon a topic for which I have very mixed feelings: personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility is supposedly one of those American Ideals that makes America America. I can’t find any fault with being personally responsible for yourself and your well being, to the best of your abilities. However, I dislike how so many people fall back on this idea of personal responsibility to suggest that a person deserves any misfortune she suffers. The author of today’s letter uses personal responsibility to make it acceptable that 47 million people don’t have health care. He does so with a sentence that often inflames me: “However, 250 million people do have coverage and they have worked hard for it.” (emphasis mine). That seems to be the sentence of choice among those who argue against anything that would provide a boost for those who are less fortunate. They have worked hard for it. The underlying statement being, those who are less fortunate haven’t worked hard. In this case, the author is clearly saying the 47 million people without health insurance haven’t worked hard.

Surely that can be the only reason a person doesn’t have health care, because she hasn’t worked hard. While I understand this is obviously true, I’m going to ask you to indulge in a short foray into reality. I’m willing to bet one of the largest reasons a person doesn’t have health care is because her employer doesn’t provide it. I’d like to give you two specific examples.

Person M works full time for a small business in the agriculture field. The business doesn’t actually do anything traditionally considered agriculture, but because of some special rules is allowed to declare itself an agriculture business. M has worked full time at this business for at least 10 years. Previously, she worked at several other businesses in the same field. She has a college degree, albeit in an unrelated field. Person M’s employer only employs 20-25 people, most of them part time or seasonal, and cannot afford to provide health coverage to any employees. So, Person M doesn’t have health care.

Person L works full time for a very large corporation. She has worked full time for this corporation for one year. She had to wait six months to gain eligibility for health care coverage, and then accepted it. Six months later, for reasons completely unrelated to L’s ability to fulfill her responsibilities, her employer decided to change her position to part-time and hire more part time employees. As a part time employee, L is no longer eligible for health care.

So, here we have two instances of a full time (which is usually accepted as within the definition of hard working) employee who, through no fault of her own, is without health care. What are we to take from this information? Should M, in order to be personally responsible, have chosen to work at a larger company that could afford to offer health care? Even though L’s example shows that large companies are just as likely to avoid offering health care if possible? Should L have worked harder? Even though the company openly admitted the change in L’s position had nothing to do with her ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the position? In what way would this ideal of working harder have helped either M or L? In what way would this ideal of personal responsibility have helped either M or L? I guess all they can do is be personally responsible for not getting sick.

The author suggests that the problem with Mr. Obama’s proposed health care plan is that it undermines personal responsibility. But, I fail to see how that is true, or, more importantly, how being personally responsible helps maintain health care. I think the problem with Mr. Obama’s proposed health care plan is much less vague and immeasurable than the possibility of undermining personal responsibility. I think the problem is that Mr. Obama would let health care remain an employer responsibility. The above examples are clear proof that leaving health care in the hands of employers is a recipe for lack of health care. Employers will, again and again, find ways to avoid paying the high and growing higher cost of health care. Employers will refuse to offer health care, cut full time positions to lessen the number of employees who are eligible for health care, or pass along enough of the costs to make it unaffordable for employees. The way health care is handled now has nothing to do with personal responsibility, and everything to do with profitability.