Friday, February 26, 2010

"It was.....SOAP POISONING!"

There's a piece of music - I think it's called The Heartless Landlord or something like that - that's widely used in cartoons to depict a pitiable situation. And it was used very effectively in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie was imagining how SORRY, how VERY SORRY his parents would be after he went blind from having to get his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy.

Well, I kind of feel like that needs to be the soundtrack for all the people coming out of the woodwork with their health-insurance sad stories.

Okay, don't get me wrong: it sucks when health insurance screws you over. People should have some recourse when some clerical error makes things bad. Or when a company decides to drop someone. Or whatever.

But I become IMMEDIATELY cynical when these kinds of sad stories are brought out as evidence that Something Must Be Done, NOW! Because acting on something that is not strictly urgent - and treating it as if it is VERY urgent - can lead to some very bad solutions indeed.

Yes, there are problems with how health care is administered right now. There are problems with insurance companies. There is a problem when people have to wait four or five hours in an ER. There is a problem when people are out of work and have major problems like cancer.

But: we didn't get into these problems in a few days. Trying to solve them in a few days with sweeping legislation makes me fear the Law of Unintended Consequences. Especially when it seems that certain people are saying stuff like, "We just need to get it done. We don't need to look at details. We don't need to hear from the other side. We don't need input from the majority of the American public who are happy with their insurance."

And: I kind of love Senator Lamar Alexander right now, for saying something I had been thinking about, but not been able to articulate:

"Our country is too big, too complicated, too decentralized for Washington to write a few rules about remaking 17 percent of the economy all at once. That sort of thinking works in a classroom, but it doesn't work very well in our big, complicated country. It doesn't work for most of us and if you look around the table -- and I'm sure it's true on the Democratic side -- we have got shoe store owners and small business people and former county judges and we've got three doctors. We've got people who are used to solving problems, step by step."

As we say on Internet fora: THIS.

(His full press release is here)

My two big concerns with how people are going about this process - well, I have many concerns, but two of the major ones are:

there's a push for a one-size-fits-all solution

there's this sense of terrible urgency, almost that it's better to pass a bill that will be bad for some people, than to pass no bill at all.

We got into this problem over a long span of time. Solving it in such a way as to cause the least harm to the greatest number of people, I suspect, will take a long span of time.

It's like losing weight: none of us blimp up overnight. None of us put on 25 pounds in a week. And yet, we have all these commercials suggesting we can take that weight off fast, no consequences. So you get people taking stuff like Fen-Phen (which caused heart valve problems in some people who took it). Or taking weird herbal mixtures that are unsafe. Or starving themselves. Or trying to exercise six hours a day. And if it doesn't kill you, it makes you damn miserable - and less likely to stick with it. But the person who decides to lose weight, who sits down and says, for example, "I will cut back on sweets so I am only eating them two or three days a week, and I will cut back on fat, and I will stop going to fast food places as much as I do, and I will start exercising 15 minutes a day and work up from there as I get stronger" - they are more likely to succeed.

Also, if they get input and support from friends and knowledgeable people (doctors, nutritionists), they are more likely to succeed.

This is why I'm so twitchy about the tone some take of "we must pass something, now!" People are not dying in the streets - contrary to the extreme sob stories you hear. Most people are doing fine. Okay, pass something to help the people in extremis. But don't say, "Because five women with breast cancer lost their health care coverage, we must let the government take care of all women's breast health."

Also: if the government runs stuff, and they wind up screwing you over, to whom can you go?


Kate P said...

I think you raised a really point here--it didn't all happen overnight, so why make a sweeping change? Why does it have to be done all at once? If they could target just one thing, change that, and see how it goes, maybe that would work better.

My mom ran into problems getting her medication because the FDA started messing with it--I really don't want the government messing with my choices when it comes to my personal health.

Kate P said...

Really GOOD point. Jeez. I cannot type or proofread today.