August 25, 2009

The Public Welfare Is Not a Commodity

Last week, Congressman Anthony Wiener of New York - who is rapidly claiming a role for himself as one of the more eloquent and forceful progressives in the House of Representatives - asked Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough a question that literally left the host in stunned silence, and then fumbling for a substantive response: What value, exactly, is it that health insurance companies provide? [At roughly the 5:20 mark.]

It was an interesting exchange in that Scarborough, a vocal advocate of privatizing government services during his own tenure in the House, appeared open to conversing politely with the congressman, but flat out couldn't get past the idea that capitalist enterprise isn't always the right course of action; that it might not be something for which we should always strive in every situation. It was clear that Mr. Scarborough simply took for granted the inherent "goodness" of profit-driven solutions to problems affecting the public welfare.

As I have said in the past, in almost all cases, a robust private marketplace will, in fact, eventually produce a solution to most problems. Unfortunately, the time line for such a solution - as well as the inherent instability of such a market - can inflict, or at least permit, tremendous human costs. That is the case with the current state of health care coverage in the United States.

Today we have almost 46 million uninsured Americans, and for the richest country in the world, pathetic - and worsening - performance along measures of life expectancy at birth, infant mortality and amenable deaths when compared to other industrialized nations.

Simply put, if our goal is to ensure a healthy citizenry - which, by the way, will help drive economic growth - we cannot afford to regard the public welfare as a commodity which is required to produce a profit. The baseline from which we should be operating is that medical coverage for all comes first; private profits a very distant second.

Funny or Die takes a look at the logical end state of an approach that worries more about political ideologies than health care or the public good. (Click here to view if embedded video isn't functioning.)

No comments: