Health care and general welfare

July 21, 2012

Rutland Herald

Dr. John McGarry’s letter, “Insurance can’t cover everything” in the July 13 edition of the Rutland Herald, is difficult to decipher. Is the letter’s intention to prove that health care is not a human right? There is Dr. McGarry’s reference to the U.S. Constitution that “our only rights are the ones spelled out in the Constitution, and they’re all abstract entities.” Would it be possible to imagine that “to promote the general welfare” in the preamble of the Constitution is too abstract to include health care as part of this promotion?

The Constitution evolved when health care was rudimentary at best, often as dangerous or fatal to the patient as it might be beneficial. Perhaps if health care had been more advanced during that era, or at least better understood, the Vermont Constitution would have bucked tradition and been the first to grant it as one of those inalienable rights for all Vermonters, like it was the first to explicitly prohibit slavery — a revolutionary idea for that era.

The reference to Otto Von Bismarck is correct but imprecise. Bismarck did establish the first single-payer system. It was not just to “increase his appeal to his subjects,” as Dr. McGarry suggested, but a shrewd move to stop the communists and the social democrats from influencing German workers. While it probably did increase his appeal among working people, whose lives were not easy and rarely secure, it was not just popularity seeking that made him start the world’s first national health system.

As for health insurance being a “wealth and income redistribution mechanism,” it has succeeded admirably in this purpose. The fantastically top-heavy salaries of health insurance CEOs are testimony to its success. Medicare, however, a single-payer program, covers its population far more at less cost and protects them against the insecurity and relentless gouging that Bismarck well understood.