Health care: privilege or right?

When John Locke and Thomas Jefferson wrote that human beings possess God-given rights, including the right to life, and when they said that governments exist to protect those rights, they were not suggesting that governments ought to provide every citizen with food, clothing, shelter, health care, and all the other things needed to sustain and prolong their lives. Instead, they were saying that governments should deprive no one of life without due process; furthermore, that governments are obliged to protect the lives of citizens from dangers posed by foreign attackers and domestic criminals.

Locke and Jefferson envisioned a world in which people provided food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of life for themselves and their dependents through their individual wealth and through wages for their labor. Individuals facing extreme need found help from extended family, neighbors, worship communities, and charitable organizations. Ebenezer Scrooge might sneer that workhouses and prisons sufficed to meet the needs of the poor, but in many cases compassion and charity filled the gaps where hard work and diligence did not suffice. Had God’s Law been obeyed by all the Israelites, there would have been no poverty in Israel. In his Judgment Day parable, Jesus commended those who have the hungry something to eat and gave the thirsty something to drink; he said nothing about lobbying the government to provide resources for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, and ill.

In the “good old days,” doctors made house calls. Sometimes they accepted vegetables or baked goods as payment for their services; sometimes they waived payment out of the kindness of their hearts. But in those “good old days,” doctors did not remove cataracts, provide knee and hip replacements, or use CAT scans to diagnose problems. Health care and medicine have come a long way since the “good old days,” which is why they are so expensive. People expect more from their doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and therapy centers than ever before. Every year, research and development provide new benefits to conquer disease and to prolong life and health. Some research and development is funded by government grants, and some raises money through donations, but much is done by for-profit companies. They have the combined goals of making life better for all people and offering a return on the investment of their sponsors.

Health insurance was invented as a way to spread the cost of health care move evenly over time and throughout the population. Buyers of insurance gamble that they are going to get sick and need expensive care; providers of insurance gamble that most people are not going to get sick and need expensive care. Insurance is necessarily inflationary—an insurance company must pay workers, maintain offices, and return a profit to their investors, while still keeping their promises to pay the medical expenses of their customers. A complicated system of fees, deductibles, negotiated settlements, and other financial arrangements has developed out of these needs. Otto von Bismarck of Germany was one of the first government leaders to ask employers to contribute to the health insurance of their workers. Today a person struggling to pay medical bills may also be benefiting from the health care industry through investments that are adding to that same person’s retirement fund. Life is complicated that way.

In the free market, health care and health insurance may not always be fair. People with more money can afford more helpful health insurance, while those with less money have insurance that does less for them. Wealthy people can afford care that is unavailable to others. Within the free market, governments intervene to make sure that essential care is available to all. Doctors, hospitals, and clinics cannot deny certain kinds of care to people in need, even when those people cannot afford to pay. Defining “essential care” is a challenge faced by members of the government, who must negotiate with each other to write a law that meets that need.

Under pure socialism, the government would gain control of all hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, medical offices, rehabilitation centers, and therapy providers. The government would pay the salaries of all health care workers as well as all other costs of maintaining these facilities. Citizens could receive health care at no cost; although, to reduce the burden on taxpayers, the government might require fees for certain services that are not defined as “essential care.”

The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 (known as Obamacare) stopped far short of socializing all health care in the United States. Much of the legislation in that package focused its attention on health insurance rather than on reducing the cost of health care. More innovation in the latter regard might solve some of the current problems in American health care without threatening greater government control or a trend toward socialism.

Education of health care workers is expensive. Many professional health care workers begin their careers with enormous debts. Government loans that are part of that debt could be reduced or forgiven when these professionals participate in health care benefits to the poor and deprived—providing health care through urban centers for the poor, homeless shelters, and the like. Medical facilities and equipment are also expensive. Government grants could make them available in low-income communities at less cost than it takes to promise free health care to all the poor in those communities. Research and development need to continue in the health care industry. Government grants and charitable organizations contribute to the costs of research and development, but private funding with a hope for a profitable return should never be excluded from the equation.

The world contains sufficient food that no one should be hungry. Food is not distributed fairly. Inviting the government to collect all the food and distribute it evenly would be wasteful and unfair. Charitable giving, with some government participation, solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Sufficient housing exists in the United States for all the people who live here. Problems of homelessness are complicated by mental illness, addictions, personal choice (in a few cases), and other factors. Forcing every American to live in government-provided housing would be wasteful and unfair. The free market—with some charitable help and some government participation—solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Health care can be provided for all Americans. Putting the government in control of all health care—or even in control of all health insurance—would be wasteful and unfair. People need to be allowed to choose among various options regarding both health care and health insurance. Charitable help, with some government participation (such as Medicare) solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Protecting each citizen’s right to life is not the same as meeting each citizen’s needs in every way. The free market always innovates and creates better answers than would total government control. Through further study, negotiation, and compromise, more help can be found for the needy. Socialism does not offer answer that would improve upon the current system. J.

Hearty skillet recipe

During my one-year internship, when I lived alone in an apartment, I invented a recipe that was cheap, easy to make, satisfying, and easy to rewarm as leftovers. Somehow, this recipe became a default family lunch for snow days. Even if I had to walk a mile in the snow to the grocery store for two or three ingredients, I did so willingly because we all like this lunch.

Here are the ingredients for my recipe: One box of macaroni and cheese (which will require some butter and milk), one pound of cooked meat, half an onion chopped, half a bell green pepper chopped, two cloves of garlic diced, one can of diced tomatoes (14 ½ ounces), one small can of mushroom pieces, two teaspoons chili powder, 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning (or half a teaspoon each of oregano, parsley, and thyme), and half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the instructions on the package. While waiting for the water to come to a boil, chop the vegetables and cook them in the skillet in two teaspoons of vegetable oil or melted butter. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, meat, and spices. Stir occasionally. When the macaroni and cheese is prepared, add it to the skillet. Stir and bring to the table.

My usual meat for this recipe is diced summer sausage. We receive summer sausages in gift baskets every Christmas, and summer sausage on crackers is appealing for only a few consecutive evenings. Many other meat choices are possible: cooked chicken, diced; cooked ham, diced; ground beef; hotdogs or bratwurst, sliced; or just about any other leftover meat found in the refrigerator. Fish (at least canned tuna) does not go well into this recipe. A meatless version could easily be made with a cup of beans or corn in place of the meat.

This is a hearty meal that is easy to prepare. I’ve doubled it when my children had friends over to play in the snow. The leftovers store well and are easily warmed for a meal later in the week. J.

Strive to be…

I have seen a clever saying: “Strive to be the person your dog thinks you are.” While that would be good advice for many people, it doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a dog; I have two cats. I don’t know if I should strive to be the person they think I am. Sometimes they think I am a piece of furniture. Sometimes I distract them when they want to sleep, and sometimes I sleep when they want to be distracted. I provide them with food and water, and I clean their litter boxes. If it wasn’t for that, they might not notice my existence at all.

I do not need to strive to be the person they think I am. I already am that person. They see me as a bundle of contradictions. I leave the house for hours at a time, and always at the best times for getting a few naps. Then I sleep through the best times for exploring the house and having fun. I prepare food and eat food off of surfaces so disgustingly dirty that I won’t even allow my cats to walk across those surfaces. I spend long periods of time staring at objects in my hands instead of batting those objects across the room and then chasing after them. When they want to greet me in a natural way, I turn them around so their heads are facing me.

Maybe I should strive to be the person my cats want me to be. It would take effort, but I’m sure it could be done. I would have to develop ESP so I would know, without having to look, that their food dish was nearly empty, and I would rush to fill it again. (“Nearly empty,” by the way, is defined as, “the bottom of the bowl is visible in at least one place.”) I would walk around the house every hour flushing all the toilets so they had a ready source of fresh drinking water. I would open the windows every day. (The air is always fresh and near the ideal temperature every time I open the windows, so why don’t I do it more often?) I would let the songbirds into the house so the cats could play with them instead of just watching them through the screen. I would stay home every day, take frequent naps, and be ready to play at night. I would help them figure out how to catch that red dot of light that bounces around the walls and floor and never seems to stay captured, no matter how cleverly they trap it with their paws.

No, I will never become the person my cats want me to be. They will never understand that my hours away from the house somehow make it possible for me to put food in their bowl. They will never convince me that the best conversations are not conducted face to face. But we seem to have a working relationship, and that may be what matters the most. As in so much of life, vive la difference! J.

 

The sense of scents

Dogs and cats rely on the sense of smell far more than people do. In fact, people often overlook the importance of scents, because we pay far more attention to what we see and hear and touch. Being blind or deaf is a serious problem, but not being able to smell seems to make very little difference to a person.

Our awareness of scents is often more subliminal than direct. When I was in college, the psychology professor described how she had struggled with depression in her college days. While she was enduring several weeks of depression, she had classes in a building with fragrant flowers blooming outside. Even years later, she reported, smelling that kind of flower made her feel a twinge of depression due to the olfactory reminder of her college darkness.

On a recent Saturday a member of my family was preparing food right after breakfast to cook in a slow cooker, and my thoughts drifted to the Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood. Soon I established the connection—my mother made a stuffing with onion and celery that she chopped on Thanksgiving morning, and I believe that was the only morning of the entire year that she chopped those vegetables. She often cooked with them, but usually she only chopped in the afternoon. Smelling chopped onions in the morning immediately evoked my memories of Thanksgiving mornings from years ago.

The mind can work the opposite direction as well. I was driving to work a couple of mornings ago, listening to the classical music station, and a piano piece started to play. Instantly I thought I smelled faintly the aftershave lotion that my uncle used to wear. My uncle taught me how to play the piano when I was a child. I had not remembered the scent of that aftershave lotion for years, but a piano piece on the radio brought it to mind.

Early this year, I took my family to one of those towns where people have restored the old buildings to make the town look like it was more than a hundred years ago. The restaurant where we ended up having lunch was in one of those restored buildings, and it had a wood-burning fireplace. The entire south end of the town was permeated with the odor of the burning logs. Days later, when I was looking at pictures of the same buildings, I smelled the wood smoke again, and that happened several times over the following days whenever I had reason to glance at those photographs.

I know that I am highly sensitive to scents as well as to sounds. I haven’t had trouble with migraine headaches lately, but when I did struggle with migraines, I usually knew one was coming because I became even more sensitive to odors. What a woman considers an appropriate amount of perfume can send me into a coughing fit that makes me have to leave the room. If one person has spent time with another person who smokes cigarettes, I can smell the smoke in that person’s clothing even if the other person didn’t smoke in the company of the first person. I am not fond of the odors of plastics and other chemicals—I’ve never understood the attraction for some people of a “new car smell.” I would far rather breathe the air of a farmyard or a zoo, odors that other people find offensive but I find mildly comforting.

The sense of smell is more a part of our lives than most people realize. Much of the taste of food and beverages comes from the odor, which is why food tastes different to a person whose nose is congested. Odors can be a warning of danger, such as smelling fire in a house or smelling gasoline in a car. Odors we do not consciously notice can still influence us, as is the case with pheromones, which can attract one person to another person although neither person knows why. When people shop for a house, they can be influenced positively or negatively by scents; some homeowners cook a batch of chocolate chip cookies when they know that a prospective buyer will be visiting.

Near where I work is a vegetarian restaurant. Some days when I walk by, they are cooking onions, caramelizing them for soups or sandwiches. I cannot smell onions being cooked in that way without thinking of pork chops the way my mother used to prepare them.

What scents carry the strongest memories in your life? J.