#70 – Dick Bernard: Health Care and Government in LaMoure

Other posts on this topic: July 24,26,27,29,30,31,August 1,2,5,6,7,10
See Update at end of post.
Friday I was in LaMoure (county seat of LaMoure County, ND, pop. 900). 
As is usual on my visits there, I was an early customer for coffee at the gas station on the east edge of town.  I got my coffee, picked up the daily Fargo Forum and the weekly LaMoure Chronicle.  The Forum front page was dominated by a large photo and headline “Conservatives rally in Fargo for ‘Tea Party’.  Speaker Hennen says ‘freedom is under attack’.”  (That phrase,’freedom is under attack’, would be amusing, were it not so tragically wrong.) 
As I paid for my small purchases, I noticed on the counter a newsletter, “Recovery Times”, put out by FEMA, the natural disaster section of the Department of Homeland Security.  A few months earlier LaMoure had indeed been ‘under attack’ by a near catastrophic spring flood, and at that time,  ‘government’ in the form of outside assistance was very, very welcome in LaMoure, North Dakota.  Indeed, Fargo, where the Tea Partiers were conclaving, had also had great need for FEMA in its own disaster a few months earlier. 
When in LaMoure, I always pick up the LaMoure Chronicle because I’m  a fan of publisher Gerald Harris’ Comments column.  He always seems to call it like he sees it, whatever the topic, and I enjoy his passion even though, I would guess, we are not ideological twins.  He seems to have no problem with disagreement, and has printed my letters in response to something or other he’s written.  If I’m correct, I like it that he’s willing to consider and even publicize other ideas.  Maybe, even, he can accept other points of view, and maybe even change his mind…not at all a bad trait.
Harris’ August 12 ‘Comments’ column was on Health Care.  I’ve retyped it in its entirety at the end of this column.  It speaks for itself. 
No question, the Health Care debate has taken on the cast of ‘government’ versus the people…and I always find that odd.  The people are, after all, the government.  Whatever the final results of the Health Care debate, the private sector will continue to reap the benefits.  Even if we went socialist (not a swear word to me), the government would be the health care industries biggest customer.
(Come to think of it, in the area of military expenditures, we are already ‘socialist’ – without huge government expenditures for ‘defense’, the massive defense industry would be treading water.  There’s apparently good socialism and there’s bad socialism, and it’s all around us.  Indeed, little LaMoure has a small operating military facility just outside of town.  It’s a piece of pork that goes way back to the time when a local boy was United States Senator from North Dakota.  There’s an old rocket on display right beside the motel I stay in when I visit….)
So, the Health Care debate rages on, as well it should, given the immense size and complexity of the entire Health care complex.  It is not an easy debate.  A couple of days before LaMoure, I was sitting with a group of 14 “birds of a feather” (Mr. Harris would likely observe we all were like thinkers), but what was striking when we talked about Health Care was that there were, even among ourselves, many points of view about what needed fixing, and how it should be fixed. 
What seems clear is that a fix is desperately needed, and continuing to deny reality is like putting off the operation for a cancer until next year, when we know more about the specific disease.  By then it’s too late for the patient.
What’s needed in this debate is not only ideas, but an ability on all sides to really listen, rather than getting stuck in some ideological cement. 
I appreciate Gerald Harris’ point of view.  I hope he appreciates mine, too.
COMMENTS by Gerald Harris, Aug 12, 2009, LaMoure Chronicle
The health care business is becoming a contentious issue in this country today.  There are those that think health care is a right and there are those that think if you can’t pay for it you have no right to it.  I happen to be one that thinks that children and those incapacitated should be taken care of no matter what parents and others can afford to do.  What I don’t think is a solution is for the federal government or state government stepping in to turn our private health care industry into a government controlled industry.  The thing that will do is take away the incentive to improve health care because there will be no reason to do so.  The reason people keep looking for ways to improve things, whether in the health care field or any other field, is they have a monetary or other incentive that drives them.  There has to be something that a person gains from improving things or they won’t do it.  For the most part people don’t look for better ways to do things just for the fun of it.
This is a nation that spends upwards of $3 trillion a year on medical care and that may indicate that we are a nation of hypochondriacs.  It may also mean that we are becoming an aging population has has never taken good care of itself physically.  There are many reasons for poor health and some can be prevented and some can’t and it is up to us to prevent as much of it through diet, exercise and sleep as we possibly can.  This in itself would lower our health care expenditures.
The problem that we face now is that all of our energy to solve the health care problem is focused on health insurance.  The federal government’s efforts are aimed at getting everyone insured through some sort of health insurance policy whether they can pay for it or not.  As I see it this is entirely the wrong approach.  If government wants to get involved at all, and they sure seem to, they should look at making health care available to all citizens young and old through a two or three tier system.  The Number one effort should be protecting those who can’t protect themselves and that is, for the most part, the young and the mentally and or physically infirm.  The country should see to it that all children age 0-18 have free health care.  The second thing is to leave the private health care industry, including the insurance industry, alone to provide health care as they see fit.  The third thing would be to provide a public health care system by expanding on the Veterans Administration health care system to include all those that can’t or won’t afford the private system paid by insurance or by the individual without using insurance.
Ths would provide competing health care systems that the federal government seems to want and it would provide health care to all.  The details of this could easily be worked out and it would be interesting to see what the general populace would do.
By providing for children we have solved the problem of seeing to it that most of those that have no choices have a chance at growing up healthy.
What the government is proposing will eventually cost a lot more money than it does now and probably be no more effective than what we have now.
“As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself.”  Adelle Davis, 1904-1974.
Moderator Comment:  I certainly don’t carte blanche agree, or disagree, with Mr. Harris.  But the suggestion that the government is the problem brings back the comment about FEMA in LaMoure.  When there was a threatened flood, FEMA was there, even though it may well have been smarter for the town of LaMoure, and particularly the farms in the James River Valley, to be built on higher ground.   Government Health care (i.e. Veterans Administration) IS efficient…probably too efficient…it cuts into profits….
Letter to the editor published in August 19, 2009, LaMoure Chronicle:
I’m in and out of LaMoure from time to time, and when in town I always look for and appreciate Gerald Harris’ Comments in the Chronicle.  They make me think, even though I don’t always agree with them.
The August 12 column on Health Care is no exception.
I have a lot of experience with Health Care over many years; luckily I’ve been pretty health, personally.  Were it as simple as Mr. Harris and others assert.  As currently organized, medicine is extremely complicated and inefficient.
“Government” which seems to be, often, a hate-word, is all of us…not some sinister “them”.  Anyone on Medicare or who has ever been in a VA Hospital or in any way has been visited by catastrophe (your flood a few months ago) knows and appreciates the good side of “government” in Health Care.
The massive middle class – most of us, from lower to higher income – is the group that desperately needs reform of Health Care, and protection from the whims of private enterprise and economic downs.  Ironically, it is that same middle class that is mobilized to defeat the very reform that is needed.
So, you have insurance?  You can lose that job which has the insurance, or the rates or the coverage can change, or you move somewhere else.  What stability is there for the common citizen in our current system?  Precious little, I would submit.
I type this letter on an old computer that needs replacing due to innumerable upgrades, etc., over the years.  It was top of the line when I bought it, but no more.  In many ways, American Health Care policy is like this old computer.  It has patches on top of patches.  It needs, badly, “reform” (replacement).
The bottom line mitigating against reform is, I feel, the preoccupation with profits.  That is the main reason for the blizzard of misinformation about keeping what should be public, private.  There’s lots of money to be made from keeping the current system, and the prime beneficiaries are people living a life style that we cannot imagine.
Thanks, Gerald.  I have my own blog, and have written quite a lot about this topic in the last month. www.thoughtstowardsabetterworld.org is the address.  Start with August 15, where I write about the visit to LaMoure last week.
Dick Bernard