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Priceless Healthcare

Friday, October 15, 2010

I can insure my personal auto and an insurance company can compute with relative accuracy what they need to charge in premiums to make it worth their while. I’ll bet I could insure a race horse or a champion bull. Someone out there could figure out the commercial value of the animal and compute a premium. But the insurance wouldn’t be for the health of the animal but rather for the value of the animal as a commodity.

If your family pet gets sick and you take it to the vet, you will probably not be asked for your insurance card. And as painful as the decision may be, if the cost of saving the life of old Fido is beyond your means, the doctor has a painless shot that will take both you and the pooch out of your misery. And that’s why we aren’t debating healthcare reform for house pets or live stock. In one case you have to determine how much your love and devotion is worth. And in the other you make a commercial decision on the value of the beast. Not so with human healthcare.

The problem with providing care for Aunt Mildred is that you cannot place a finite value on her life. It matters not if she is a saint or a pain in the neck. It matters not what contribution she will make if she is saved. The problem with healthcare for people is you can’t place a value on what you are trying to insure.

There is a lot of talk about rationing healthcare. Who decides who will get treated and who will be left at the side of the road with a blanket, a canteen of water and a pistol with a single bullet? If you can make it to the emergency room, the full resources of medical science will be thrown into the battle to save your sorry life. And if science fails your estate can always sue.

So a big part of the healthcare reform debate has always danced around a central issue that no politician in their right mind will address. How much is Aunt Mildred worth? Who decides when her medical bank account is empty? And who pulls the plug?

These are questions that the recent health care legislation left unanswered. And, until we are willing to face up to the questions, health care costs will continue to rise and health care rationing will continue to be decided in the back rooms of insurance companies, hospitals and government agencies.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” - Aldous Huxley


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