Lamar W. Hankins : Republican Health Care: ‘Let Him Die’

Thumbs down at Republican debate. Image from The Godless Liberal.

‘Just let him die’:
The Republicans and health care

The indisputable fact is that the U.S. is alone among the advanced societies in failing to assure that health care is available to all its citizens.

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / September 19, 2011

Now that the Republican nomination for president is in full swing, we once again return to the topic of health care, especially the role of government in assuring that all Americans have access to that life necessity.

Living adequately in a modern society requires many things — transportation, housing, food, income, security from crime, education, water, fire protection, fuel for home needs and vehicles, and information about what is going on in our community, state, and nation.

Few people disagree with this list, but when health care is added to it, some people become uncomfortable — some almost apoplectic.

The government at all levels helps provide everything on the list, as does the private sector. We have a mixed economy. Usually, government and the private sector cooperate in providing needed goods and services. Sometimes the government takes the lead role; sometimes it is the private sector leading. Few, if any, vital services are provided exclusively by the private sector.

I may buy natural gas from a private company, but the transmission of that natural gas to my home requires the assistance of government to assure that it is done with sufficient care that no one is put at risk. The public highways and streets are used by the gas company to provide the service. Public rights of way are used for the natural gas lines. The government inspects the company’s installation and maintenance of the company’s gas lines to insure that they are safe and citizens are protected. It is a cooperative endeavor that benefits all of us.

Neither the government nor the company is perfect, however. Mistakes are made by both on occasion, but the system works about as well as any human enterprise can be expected to work. When there is a failure, the causes are determined and actions are taken to correct the deficiencies in the system. If the failures are too great, changes in leadership occur in either the government, the private company, or both.

Few goods and services are provided in our society without this sort of cooperation, coordination, and connectedness between the private sector and government. In fact, I am unable to think of a single 100% private-sector activity; that is, an activity that does not use some resource of the government or the public to carry out its purpose. If you come up with one, please share it.

This system works, more or less, for all of the needs of modern life. But when we start discussing health care, people who believe strongly in self-sufficiency and rugged individualism posit the notion that health care needs must be entirely the responsibility of the individual. This happened at one of the recent Republican presidential nomination debates, as described by The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson:

The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked. “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. … Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd.

Paul then mentioned that the churches would take care of such people. Most listeners and watchers to that debate probably missed the irony in this exchange between Paul and Blitzer. Jay Bookman, a columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explained in 2008 what Paul has ignored and Blitzer likely did not know:

Kent Snyder, 49, served as Paul’s 2008 campaign manager but died of complications from pneumonia two weeks after Paul withdrew from the ‘08 race. … However, Snyder did not have health insurance. According to his mother, he had a pre-existing condition that made it financially impossible to buy it on his own. (Interestingly, Snyder is credited with raising $19.5 million for the Paul campaign in the fourth quarter of 2007 alone, but none of that money was apparently used to buy insurance for campaign staffers.)

Because we treat health care as a de facto right in this country, Snyder did get at least some health care, racking up $400,000 in unpaid medical bills before he died. A fundraising effort after his death — the charity approach advocated by Paul — produced only $35,000 toward paying off those bills.

That’s not an unusual story. … [Patients such as Snyder don’t] come close to having the resources to pay off their bills. But somebody paid them. You did, and I did, and we paid Kent Snyder’s bill as well. It’s a convoluted, extremely irrational, unnecessarily expensive and inefficient system, and the only two approaches that show any promise of rationalizing it are the individual mandate or single-payer.

When Bookman writes that “we paid Kent Snyder’s bill,” what he means is that Snyder’s bill was absorbed into the rate structure that all of us who have health insurance support. We pay for all the Snyders by increased premiums and increased co-pays.

What such situations point out to me is that many people in our political system are driven by an ideology that ignores the reality of our lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the health care debate. The indisputable fact is that the U.S. is alone among the advanced societies in failing to assure that health care is available to all its citizens.

Access to health care is controlled mostly by health insurance corporations and pharmaceutical giants so that these companies can rake off large profits at the expense of 50 million Americans who do not have insurance, as well as at the expense of every policy-holder.

One of those Americans without health insurance is a friend of mine who has had to take out crushing loans that could leave him penniless to pay for two essential surgeries and other medical procedures as a result of accidental injuries he sustained doing a good deed for another person. He can’t afford health insurance in the present system. Where are the churches that Ron Paul touts as the solution? Where is the compassion?

For the same amount of money we spend in this country for health care and health insurance, we could cover those 50 million uninsured and an equal number of poorly insured with one simple reform — a single-payer system. What we would miss out on is paying millions of dollars to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to enrich their stockholders and executives for a service that adds nothing to the nation’s well-being and could be provided better by a single-payer system.

They have rigged our system with appeals to the kind of libertarian arguments made by Paul and others, while 45,000 Americans die needlessly each year because they can’t afford health insurance.

The U.S. health care system ranks 37th in the world in its quality of care and its efficiency according to the World Health Organization. It is this way only because too many people have bought the lie that we have a free enterprise system, which is falsely seen by them as the greatest idea in the world, more important even than all the world’s religions.

But we don’t have a free enterprise system. We have a cooperative enterprise system, and that system does not serve the people well when it comes to health care.

It is the government’s responsibility, acting on behalf of the people, to make our society work for the people’s benefit when any system becomes dysfunctional. When that dysfunctionality results in the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year, that responsibility becomes an imperative.

I am not advocating that government pay everyone’s health care bill. I am advocating that government help create a health care system that everyone can afford to participate in. That’s not socialism, as some falsely charge; it’s American democracy.

For nearly 100 million Americans with no health insurance or inadequate coverage, having meaningful health insurance reform will do more than almost anything else to assure that the promises of the Constitution are fulfilled.

It is past time for us to have a government of, by, and for the people, not of, by, and for the giant corporations who now control access to the health care system. When ideology prevents our system of government from working as was intended by the founders, its adherents are ideologues, not patriots.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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3 Responses to Lamar W. Hankins : Republican Health Care: ‘Let Him Die’

  1. deang says:

    And the churches can be as bad as the private sector in trying to extract as much money as possible out of people in need instead of concentrating on providing appropriate care. Catholic hospitals in the US are a prime example, charging outrageous sums for services just like other US hospitals.

  2. In a really civil society it would go without saying that the fuel production costs are subsidized through Military expenditures like the likely 5 trillion dollars still unaccounted in the Iraq Afghan and Other GWOT wars of conquest.

    Seriously, every square inch of land in the United States was taken at gunpoint and at taxpayer expense, for centuries, and with every bit as much or little provocation or authority as Saddam Hussein taking over Kuwait.

    In a civil society that would go without saying. But this ain’t and it don’t.

    In Mexico for decades the people got medical and dental care either free or really low cost, even Americans could cross the border and get care at a small fraction of the American cost.
    I know many Americans who got full-dentures WITH the tooth extractions, and a damned good job of it, for under a thousand bux Yankee Money. More than just prescription cost breaks, which the “health” insurance industry and Big Pharma cut out of The Bill the TeaBags screamed so much about.

    Mexican citizens would get the same thing for about $50. Most health care would be free. How did they do that?
    By nationalizing the oil industry.
    Then responsibly spending the profits. Why SHOULD profits automatically belong to rich foreign investors? They didn’t put the damned oil under Mexican sand or Iraqi or Venezuelan or Nigerian or Bolivian or ad infinitum sand.

    And having it taken at gunpoint paid at public expense, as usual.

    So PEMEX profits went to an educational system in which most of the people were functionally illiterate BEFORE but with a literacy rate that puts the U.S. to shame AFTER.
    And pumped out doctors. Lots of Doctors.
    With a one-strike-you’re-out malpractice or “matasanos” rule. They didn’t dick around on either quantity or quality. If there’s any real success story the PRI pulled out of their magic hat, that would be the shining example.
    The PANistas have sold that all to American business interests but with a medical system and educational base already in place, the people more literate than Americans, and living longer, they’re not ground under the wheels of ignorance and WILL remember how to do it right.
    Wish we could say the same for the unlearned class in America. Any surviving TeaBags twenty years from now will be scratching their heads wondering what went wrong with their Ayn Rand formula for wealth.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Hankins, I am so much tired of the Republican vs. Democrat rhetoric. The reality is that the two parties have governed this country and sadly enough (believe it or not) America is being destroyed in so many levels.
    The story about Kent Snyder is news to me. Looks like the media indicates it is Ron Paul’s fault Mr. Snyder’s death. Keep in mind that any person without insurance can get health assistance and some of the free trauma centers are the best in the world.
    What most people don’t realize about Ron Paul is that he is running for a federal office. His philosophy is about the federal government. Any power that has not been given to the feds by the constitution he will tell you the feds should not be meddling with. These are the powers entitled to the states. If a state wants to provide health care or conduct abortions Ron Paul believes it is the right of the state.
    But I was intrigued to learn about the death of Mr. Snyder since the media is using his death as a WOMD. I found the following quote in the web which I found to be of interest.

    Kent Snyder
    Submitted by The Granger on Fri, 09/16/2011 – 12:17.

    For all the TRUTH that surrounds Ron Paul, it is truely a SHAME that there are secrets about Kent Snyder in the name of respecting personal life choices. Those who are saying this are homophobes and bigots. There’s the truth!

    For a person who influenced Ron Paul to run for president, and accept, or create and establish himself, Ron Paul’s campaign manager, he had to know that he was going public. He could have written a massive best seller, “How I Influenced Ron Paul”. He was very popular with people like myself, who think it’s a shame that he is not being held up for who he was 100%.

    Who Kent Syner was represents FREEDOM of choice and burden of “don’t ask; don’t tell” government mentality, which represents hundreds of millions of Americans who are homosexual and have AIDS-HIV.

    We should be talking about it, not hiding it.

    I am not a homosexual; I am a Catholic who takes communion from a homosexual in my Church. He works at the hospital, like many honosexuals, like my oncologist, who are seriously seeking solutions to avoid the fate of Kent Snyder. I believe Kent Snyder sincerely wanted Ron Paul for president. I believe Kent Snyder gave his life to Ron Paul being president because he wanted FREEDOM so bad. Freedom to be himself and to make his own choices. Kent Snyder did not live in vain, and I would LOVE to see him lifted up as an example rather than be buried, as it appears some think is best.

    There were ALLOT of powerful gay people in San Francisco who APPRECIATED RESPECTED and LOVED Kent Snyder for WHO HE WAS. I sympathize.

    Come to think of it… Is it because the campaign doesn’t have a solution for Kent Snyder? There have been many GOOD EXCELLENT suggestions for healthcare, insurances, and choices on DP threads. Perhaps if these ideas were applied to Kent Snyder by the campaign as a solution?

    We have a huge gay community in CA that thinks Ron Paul is anti-gay, and yet, the man who got this all started, Kent Snyder was gay, and instead of showing people the TRUTH, we hide it? Doesn’t make sense to me.

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