Having raised a daughter with type I diabetes, our family has been aware of the escalating costs in the nation’s health-care system for nearly 20 years. But my wife’s recovery from nasty injuries due to a fall from a ladder earlier this summer has made me even more sensitive to the deplorable condition of the health care system in this country.
Receiving health-care bills totaling well over $110,000 in the past three months, we are obviously grateful for the insurance coverage afforded us through my employer. However, as we count our blessings we realize there are millions of Americans who would be bankrupted by this situation.
In studying the health-care debate, it is somewhat easy to see the dichotomy that plagued scholars who studied the life of Adam Smith. How could “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” and “Wealth of Nations” have been written by the same man?
Our morality (sometimes referred to as social creed) is heavily weighted by parenting, community culture and religious belief, and shaped by role models, teachers and experience. This morality suggests that all of us should have access to education, food, shelter and yes, affordable health care. These common American beliefs exist in the context of the individual freedoms guaranteed to us in our founding documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If we are to live in harmonious community, this common moral doctrine (social contract) must exist.
However, our economic system is based on a free market that is driven by self-interest, innovation, competition and the desire to build wealth. This has made us the wealthiest of nations. It motivates many to pursue the American dream and find ways to succeed in the marketplace.
Some outspoken advocacy groups bombard us with the argument that we must find a way to make the free-market economics work or we risk becoming a “socialist society.” Is anybody getting tired of this overly simplified portrait of the health-care debate?
Adam Smith was a complex individual, and the health-care problem is too. I applaud the Obama administration for taking it on and understand that what it proposes may not be perfect. It may be version No. 1 of a solution that takes four or five versions to fully succeed. But we must find a way to give affordable health care to all Americans and for reasons that even Adam Smith would agree with: The costs are preventing many American companies from competing well in the global marketplace; and because it is morally the right thing to do.
To do nothing is to mimic the ancient Roman gesture of giving the thumbs down signal in their famous coliseum, only this time it dispatches the health needs of 45 million or so fellow Americans who are either without insurance or underinsured.
Mark Seeley, PhD, is a professor and extension climatologist/meteorologist in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate at the University of Minnesota.