Some of the first firefighting brigades were operated by insurance companies to protect the houses they insured. The insured houses had a badge or symbol displayed on the exterior, and homes without that identifying mark were left to burn. The absurdity of this system was made crystal clear when the uninsured house burning without suppression ignited the insured house next door and also burned it to the ground. It became apparent that the only way to provide sensible fire protection was to tax all of the property owners a little bit and use the money to train and equip fire companies, which would respond to all fires, and also provide building inspections to prevent fires from even starting. We now have a firefighting and EMS system that is the envy of the world, proving once again that we can do great things if we put our mind to it.
Yet, as proof that we can also be really stupid, we have a health-care system that pretty much functions using the same mentality as the failed firefighting model. Except that if people don’t have insurance, they will likely still be treated, with the costs factored into the bills for all those who do have insurance. Or the uninsured are forced to make horrible choices regarding which treatments they can afford and/or declare medical bankruptcy after all of their assets have been liquidated, which happens way more than it should in a country like ours.
Until you experience a major medical event, it is difficult to comprehend the astonishing costs of medical care. The healthy libertarian pontificating about absurdity of government-provided health care has second thoughts when he or she, or a member of their family, through no fault of their own, discovers they have cancer and that the first surgical procedure will cost as much as their first home, with ongoing costs equal to the purchase of a really fine automobile every month.
It is interesting to note that our local legislators, once elected, no matter the anti-government rhetoric of their campaign speeches, immediately scuttle down to Helena and sign up for the state’s health care insurance, as they should. One would think that once they experience the freedom and comfort provided by knowing that they don’t have to worry about health-care costs if they get sick, they would make every effort to provide such care for their constituents. To the contrary, for the most part, they do all they can to prevent such a common-sense action from taking place. Shame on them.
About 40 other countries around the world offer free health care to their citizens, so we have lots of examples to examine that can help us come up with the best system for our country. Of course, that means we will have to elect leaders who possess the courage and integrity to stand up to the powerful health insurance lobby. It also means that there are a bunch of insurance executives who might have to go out and get real jobs. Well, boo hoo. I can think of a lot worse things to happen — like getting really sick without health insurance under the present system.
Joe Brenneman is a rancher, farmer and former Flathead County commissioner.