AmericaBlog has video and a transcript of Rep. Ron Paul during the Republican presidential debates, as he answers Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical question about a 30 year old man who opted out of health insurance and now lies in a coma with a dire but treatable disease. Should we save him?
Paul >> That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody –
Audience >> [applause]
Blitzer >> but congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?
Audience >> [shouts of "yeah!"]
Even Paul’s rival, Gov.Rick Perry, was ‘taken aback’ by the ugly mood of the crowd.
This may sound like ‘nut picking’– taking the most extreme statements out of context, but I will swear on a stack of collected Ralph Waldo Emerson that I heard the same kind of things said, shouted, and offered to me as argument at the health reform Town Halls here in Rhode Island.
[Here was a snarky example of a group of firefighters who let a house burn for lack of fees. Xavier Onassis, EMT-P, took issue with the story as reported by USA Today. He says the story was mis-represented in the press, and that dedicated volunteer firefighters had been working unfunded and without adequate support. He has an informed comment here with a link to a more complete story. I apologize here for giving legs to a story that reflected badly on people whose mission is to save lives.]
Rep. Paul did go on to say that no one would be left to die in his hospital, and he invoked the old-fashioned neighborly spirit where churches and benevolent groups would come together to save the guy in the coma (more on that following). Then he said something that the blogosphere has not picked up, though it’s one of Paul’s most radical statements yet…
We have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. We should legalize alternative health care. Allow people to practice what they want.
“Everybody is protected by licensing.” This is a problem? Not de-regulated enough? “Legalize alternative health care.” What is he talking about? Alternative health care is thriving, and often reimbursable by medical insurance. But do we really want to just guess, when picking a doctor, whether they passed their boards, and whether their medical school was accredited? Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, is not board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, but rather by an association that he founded and directs. That’s one way to do it. Do we crave the freedom to take our own risks with loosely-regulated doctors who can create their own credentials? Do we want an old-time doctor like R.V.Pierce?
R.V.Pierce,MD, was a good businessman. His hospital covered an entire city block in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the last century. He peddled a pre-FDA concoction called the ‘Golden Medical Discovery’. It made people feel better, allegedly because it was fortified with alcohol and opium. Dr.Pierce’s book, ‘The People’s CommonSense Medical Advisor’ contains scores of testimonials to miracle cures effected by just a few bottles. To the skeptical nurse, these stories are a window into the suffering endured by our great-grandparents, whose lives might be ruined by accidents or conditions now easily treated. Interestingly, R.V.Pierce served in Congress on the Republican ticket.
Back to Rep. Paul’s recommendation that we look to churches and neighborhood yard sales to care for our neighbors in need– check out Providence Journal reporter, Felice Freyer’s article ‘The Price of Miracles’. Neighbors do help, but the care of a baby in intensive care costs thousands of dollars a day, and then thousands of dollars a month after they go home. This is where collective responsibility comes in, and where we uphold our values as a great nation.
Back to Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical. The life of a 30-year-old man has value. More than $800,000 according to one calculation. And the community that decided a cloud of air pollution and a smoking ruin was better than an intact house– well, just a little shortsighted. At least the firefighters woke up when they saw the neighboring roofs catching sparks.
And if you’re old enough to shudder at the mention of the drug, Thalidomide, then thank Frances Kelsey. As a pharmacologist at the FDA she kept that drug from being widely prescribed in the US. Regulation is good in its place, and what you don’t know can hurt you. Ron Paul’s nostalgia for unlicensed doctors for uninsured patients is not shared by most Americans. Most Americans want some assurance that there are standards, and recourse if they are not treated right.
The suggestion that we would all be better off if it were not for those tiresome standards and licensing requirements is easily refuted if we look back a few generations– and see why these standards were put in place.
The statement that we should just let uninsured people die if charity doesn’t intervene won’t seem so smart when it’s someone you know or care about whose life is in danger. And that would happen sooner rather than later if we lived in Ron Paul’s America.
We are not yet a nation that demands a credit card number before responding to 911, but yes, people are dying for lack of affordable care. It’s years of health and life lost to preventable disease and is a national heartbreak and disgrace.
I actually share Rep.Paul’s frustration with the current system– overtreating here, undertreating there, pill-pushing and flawed. But I wouldn’t throw it away in favor of a Wild West where sick people have no protection from quacks, where we pride ourselves on being strong enough to deny care to people who made ‘bad choices’ not to buy insurance. Especially as uninsured people are often young adults, and often can’t afford insurance.
Like many middle-class parents of young adults, I am benefiting from the health care reform that allows family insurance up to age 26. I want to see this as a beginning of more comprehensive reform that covers everyone. You may say I’m idealistic, but universal health care is more reality-based than a nostalgic vision of an America that never was.
MORE: Mark Karlin on Buzzflash says that a campaign manager for Ron Paul died young, uninsured and in debt. Would it be in accordance with Libertarian principles to provide health insurance for employees? The Huffington Post also has a comment on this sad story. Pneumonia can be fatal, but it is a disease that has a high rate of recovery if treated early. When people hesitate to go to the doctor for lack of insurance there are some whose luck runs out– this especially applies to the young and healthy.