The first big presidential debate took place the other night and not surprisingly, healthcare was one of the big topics. As a doctor, lawyer, taxpayer, and just every day citizen, my views on the subject are about as linear as a circle, but one thing is for sure: someone has to pay for it.
Being a U.S. citizen, at least in my humble opinion, carries with it some responsibility. It’s like being a member of a family. Sure you have no choice about who your family is, but in order to be a meaningful part of that family, you have to do things that show that you want to continue to be a part of that family. Being in a family brings with it some responsibility. Whether that responsibility is just showing up for family outings, or calling a family member when they’re sick or need help, or giving a sibling a few dollars when they need it, there are things that one must do to show that he or she cares. You can’t just be a taker.
The same is true of being a citizen. People can’t just be takers. Whether it’s being a taxpayer, using our educational system, driving on our roads, or using our healthcare system, people cannot just take. You’ve got to give as well. Give by paying taxes, stimulating the economy by buying goods and services, helping the needy, etc…
I do not believe that having access to extensive health care, be it in a taxpayer funded clinic or a taxpayer funded hospital is a right. It is a privilege. You have to pay into the system and contribute in order to be afforded that privilege. You can’t go into a Ford dealership and get a free car, and I don’t think that you should be able to go into a hospital and demand free services.
That said, there are absolutely free clinics funded by private donations and benefactors that have been set up exclusively for that purpose: to treat those who do not have the ability to pay for their own medical care or who have chosen not to protect themselves. But for those that do not have the wherewithal or ability to pay for health insurance, I do not believe that they have or should have the right to be treated in taxpayer funded facilities. Much as a lawyer or accountant or architect would not provide their services for free, nurses, doctors, x-ray technicians, and other health care providers should not be forced to work for free, or have to rely on ‘big brother’ reimbursing them because the patient made a choice not to contribute to our system.
Is this cold and heartless? Possibly. But I saw my own father work his tail off, day in and day out, as a physician while I was growing up, and for him to work that hard and not get paid, or get paid pennies on the dollar by the government simply isn’t fair. Medical care is wildly expensive in this day and age, and our country’s finances are in shambles, and I don’t think it’s my job or anyone else’s job to pay for someone that has chosen not to pay for him or herself. Are there exceptions to this rule? Certainly. But overall, I think this country needs to set a precedent for the proposition that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
To this point, just the other day, I had a client who was injured in a car accident. When I asked her whether or not she had health insurance, she responded “No.” I asked why not and she told me, “Because I never really get sick and I don’t like seeing doctors.” Fair enough. But she didn’t say it was because she couldn’t afford it. She made a conscious choice not to protect herself. So be it. But when she gets sick or injured, she better know that she is going to be responsible for the entirety of the medical bill. And if I were that hospital or that doctor, I wouldn’t treat her until and unless I got paid in advance. This lady made a choice, and she now has to either change that choice (and purchase insurance) or live with the consequences of not doing so.
At the end of the day, everyone needs to contribute to our system. Yes, every country is judged by how it treats its poorest, sickest citizens. But at the same time, we have a country of takers; people that don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives and their own choices in their lives. It is time for us as a people and as individual citizens to choose to contribute to the welfare of our society. Once we start to do that, I believe that this country will start to function much more efficiently for the benefit of all Americans.