Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who cares about health care?

Allow me one assumption that some might consider generous.  Nobody engaged in the health care debate wishes anyone else ill, at least not literally.  They may, however, wish for a system in which others would have no way to treat their illnesses, or those of their loved ones.  They simply don't actively wish anyone ill.  As you can see, this does not confer quite the degree of humanity upon them one might have thought at first blush.

Care.  The word comes into English via the Latin verb "curo, curare," meaning to care for or about, applied in any number of ways.  One can, for instance, care for art objects, as curators do; or souls, the job of priests, to whom we used to refer in the Catholic Church as curates.  Doctors care for patients, and when one says that one cares for someone in a romantic relationship, the statement implies a similar level of concern for the other's well-being.  So an affection can quickly become a worry, a concern:  a care, as in "the cares of the world."  And that kind of care usually involves money these days, at least at some point.

The health care debate illustrates the multiplicity of meanings we attach to the word care.  We have almost forgotten that we got into this debate to protect people's health, to alleviate their cares and allow them access to proper care.  Or so one would hope.  Instead, some would make this into an argument solely about finances and profits, taxes and deficits.  Apparently the access to affordable health care does not count among the truths some folks hold as self-evident.  

Put another way, the cares associated with preserving the incomes of the haves trump the health care of the have-nots, or even the have-not-quite-enoughs, a group which has perhaps reached the critical mass necessary to force a resolution to the health care crisis, at least the insurance side of it.  Some of us, nonetheless, continue to lack the imagination, or willingness, to understand the cares of those who can't afford health insurance, or can't get it because of precisely the pre-existing condition for the treatment of which they most desperately need it.  

One irony looms large here.  Our financial crisis has not only made health care reform more necessary; it has probably made it more possible.  The crisis has, after all, made the haves feel more vulnerable than they have felt in years, and made it hard for them to ignore the general need.  As soon as they consider how we will pay for a genuinely fair health care system, however, that very vulnerability makes them more concerned about their cares than about others' care.

Let me play the anti-Jonathan Swift here and make a latter day modest proposal:  that we either grant the equivalence of access to health care and enfranchisement and follow that equivalence to the logical conclusion of a health care bill by whatever means, or stop pretending that we aspire to any unalienable right but selfishness.  We must pay for it somehow, obviously; but if we count nickels and dimes till the cows come home, we will nickel-and-dime people out of something far more important than nickels and dimes:  their health, and with it their human dignity.  And we may find ourselves with a lot more financial cares than we have even now, to boot.



  1. I fully agree with your thoughts here. My only piece of advice for making this a better post is that you should have gone totally Swiftian and suggested that we eat the infirm. Then the only cost you need to cover is charcoal.

    ...honestly, I don't know why people take me seriously at all...

    One last note: Another word that we can associate (not technically correctly, but perhaps semantically) with "care" - "caritas".

  2. I really like how you focus on care. I too forget about the word as I think more about health and its terminal destination, the hospital. What if we dropped the word health entirely and really looked at how we might all strengthen our love and loving relationships (care). Obviously, cancer/disease attacks all and this connection you make between all forms of care is powerful. Care 101 could be a useful addition to our current health care plan.