23 February 2010

People are just like cars, doncha know?

My dedication to civility and respect is going to be tested right off the bat, I see.

I'd never heard of Neal Boortz before, but apparently he thinks that society should value people in the same way it values automobiles when it comes to fixing damaged ones, and who should pay.

I had just walked into my local ABC store to pick up some brandy for the wife and some vodka for myself, and this guy's radio show was blaring through the speakers.

He started by presenting a hypothetical: if you crashed your car and didn't have insurance, and then go to an insurance company to apply for coverage with the added demand that they pay for the crash, even though it happened before coverage started, you would rightly be denied coverage for that car.

From there, he takes the analogy to health care with a particular harshness that I felt was uncalled for, and I'll paraphrase what he said to as close as I can remember it:

"So let's say that you don't have health insurance, and you contract diabetes because you're a fat pig, and then you decide you need insurance to help pay for the disease you contracted. Why should anyone insure you at all? You didn't have coverage prior to the disease you contracted."

He said "fat pig" with such vitriol I could practically hear the spittle pelting his microphone.

I was pretty disgusted, obviously, because this man seems to think that people are no different than cars, and should be "totalled out" if they're "wrecked" and are unable to pay for "repairs."

I took my purchase up to the counter and asked the clerk who it was that was on the radio.

"Boortz," he said simply.

"Well, it's kind of silly to treat people and cars as being the same, isn't it?"

The clerk, a man in his 40s, simply shrugged, looked away and curtly replied, "Have a nice day, sir." He obviously did not want to talk politics, though I can't fairly say whether it was him or another employee who appreciated Boortz's "insightful commentary."

So I took my bag and left.

Perusing Boortz's site, he keeps a blog where he posted pretty much the same argument:

...my "talking point," as you put it, is that it makes no logical sense whatsoever to require an insurance company to sign someone up for an insurance policy to provide coverage for an even that has already taken place. If you applied for homeowner's insurance after your house burned down it is a pretty safe bet that you're application will be declined. If you call Geico and try to insure your car after you've wrecked it, you're unlikely to get coverage for that wreck. Can someone please explain to me then just why it is generally accepted that a person ought to be permitted to contract a disease first, and then buy insurance to cover the costs of that disease after the fact? If that's the routine, they why would anyone ever buy insurance until they're actually sick?

Of course, that isn't how it happens in the real world. In general, there are only two reasons why people go without health insurance: either they cannot afford the premiums or they're stupid.

Now, there are plenty of stupid people in the world, and the American electorate has more than its fair share, but among the nearly 40 million who go without, affordability is the reason, not because they want to be Evel Knievel when it comes to their own health. There are plenty of stories of people who have to choose between feeding their family, paying their mortgage, or paying their insurance premiums. And the number keeps rising.

But that's just a minor mistake when taken against the assertion that people are to be treated like houses and cars. One wonders what kind of world it would be where Boortz's pragmatism ruled, cetainly not the kind that values human life: "What's that? You say you've got a debilitating illness that is life-threatening? Sorry brother, it's not cost-effective to save your life, doesn't matter if it was your own fault or not. I got mine, so sod off."

Here's the second part of his argument, where he stretches things way beyond reality.

Now .. here are some hard truths that are going to anger some of you. First, you have no right to health care. To obtain health care you must have access to the services of a health care practitioner and the products manufactured by drug and medical implement companies. To claim a right to health care you are claiming a right to the time and property of some other person. How do you then balance your claim of a right to a portion of that person's life against their own right to protect their lives and property? The argument for a right to health care simply cannot be sustained until you are willing to accept the idea that one individual in our society has a right to the life and property of another.

But that's bollocks, of course. This is the same kind of reasoning that would demolish such "socialist" government programs like fire and police departments. Fire and police are paid through community taxes (i.e. everyone's "lives and property" as Boortz puts it), so that if one person's house is burglarized or catches fire, that person can rely on the government for help. It's part of our social contract, we take care of each other for things that happen which are beyond our control. We cannot control whether or not a certain exposed wire is going to spark the insulation into a fire anymore than we can control whether or not a criminal will choose to burglarize our home.

The same is true of most diseases, we cannot control, and diabetes is included, even type 2 adult-onset, which doesn't just happen to fat people.

Anyway, this is rather moot because their is no comparison between the fire and police departments and health insurance, precisely because health insurance is not a government program (not yet, at least, and not anytime soon). No one is going to take Mr. Boortz's "life and property" by insuring someone with a disease that is expensive to manage. The problem is not, as Boortz seems to think, with people who want insurance to give them a free ride on someone else's dime, but rather that people who would like to be able to buy into the system, to contribute what they can for their own health.

Sure, such people do cost more to insure, but Boortz is far off-base from the reality. If someone with, say, cystic fibrosis, were to try and buy into a large health giant like one of the BC/BS "non-profits," I doubt the rest of everyone else's premiums would change. Of course, add a whole bunch and the picture changes, but as long as those with the pre-existing conditions are paying their fair share, no-one has any right to complain, because the alternative, already a reality, is that those people are left out in the cold, either to live in misery or, just as likely, die in misery. And if the measure of a society is how well it takes care of the least of its members, then ours falls far short of even being called "decent."

But let's let Boortz finish his point (here's where he alludes to the "fat pig" with diabetes from his radio show):

Second point: Your medical misfortune does not constitute a lien on my life or property unless I have voluntarily entered into a contract with you. Yes .. if you have diabetes or some disease that is going to cost you $20,000 a year, or more .. that's sad. Less sad if you ate yourself into that situation .. but sad nonetheless. As sad as it is your medical condition gives you no claim on my bank account. You can rely on your own resources, your family, your church, a charity or the voluntary goodness of strangers all you want; but to use the government as an instrument of plunder to seize the property of another for your health care needs is immoral .. no matter how grave your condition may be.

This is libertarianism at it's most vacuous, because the logic applied here also can be applied to the aforementioned fire and police departments. The fact is that we all must sacrifice something for the benefit of all (including Mr. Boortz, whether he likes it or not) when it comes to issues that affect us all.

We all contribute to taxes that pay for fire departments, because we want the benefit of our community's protection in case our house catches fire.

We all contribute to taxes that pay for police departments, because we want the benefit of our community's protection in case we're robbed.

We do this not only to protect ourselves, but because we value our neighbors and countrymen. We value their lives and happiness, which is why we protect their safety, so why wouldn't we want to protect their heath?

What Boortz is trying to claim smacks of Jane Fonda's ill-advised attempt to not pay her taxes during the Vietnam War, her reasoning being that because she did not support the war, she should not have to see her tax money used to pay for it. Of course, that argument failed because, as the judge pointed out, she benefits from national defense regardless of whether she agrees with what the military does or does not do. She lives in safety and enjoys her rights because of the protection afforded by the military through her taxes.

The same can be true of health insurance. It won't, of course, as a national health plan will not pass congress, not in its current state of partisan gridlock where lies, rumours, and hearless "logic" like Boortz's tend to get the most attention. But a small justice can be done by requiring that insurers accommodate those with pre-existing conditions. Because we value our fellow citizens enough to bring them in from the cold, even if it means we have to spare a few cents extra overall on our insurance premiums. To do otherwise is downright inhuman.

Update: I noticed that Boortz also writes a column for the WorldNetDaily, which if I recall, is run by fundamentalist Christian Joseph Farah. How "Christian" is Boortz if he advocates letting people suffer and die to save his own bottom line? Well, no one ever accused the WorldNetDaily of being consistent...or honest...or accurate...or fair...or, well, you get the idea.

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