Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When adequate health care was an inconceivable notion - How Our History Contributes to our Troubles Today

Why is it that we have such a contentious argument about providing an equitable system of medical care to the citizens of our country? We have already talked about the fact that our employer system of paying for insurance causes unique difficulties, but I believe that there is another, core reason for our troubles. When the founders crafted our Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, there was no such thing as effective medical care. The average age of death at the time of our founding was in the early 40s, and there was little difference between the rich and poor. Indeed, those who could afford medical care in those days were often treated barbarically, and a good case can be made that the net effect of such care was deleterious and not helpful. The Father of Our Country, George Washington himself, died at home in his bed in Mt. Vernon from the complications of a strep throat. In other words, the same people who proclaimed  "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness " would never have thought of the fact that access to life saving medical care might be a right that would follow from this assertion. 

Today, we understand that in order to enjoy our constitutional rights and fully participate in a democratic society, we need and deserve access to basic health care services. It seems ironic to me that our effort to ensure that our citizens are healthy and able to strive for their rights of  "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" will be judged on the basis of a document that has its origin in a time where adequate health care was an inconceivable notion. The Supreme Court will be thinking about interstate commerce, the rights of the states and the federal governments ability to regulate. They will have no guidance from our Constitution on why the inadequate access of millions of citizens to modern health care serves as a denial of their most basic, "unalienable rights".