Healthcare Reform: Taking Care of Those Who Fund our National Priorities, Our Citizens

Our constitution gives Congress the right to levy and collect taxes on income.  Our lawmakers in Washington DC declare the priorities and work of our country, assign a budget, and every citizen of this country regardless of means, to the extent required by law, financially supports these declared priorities.  There is no leeway here.  Failure to pay taxes is a criminal offense.

Included as part of our national priorities is by far and away the largest military and defense expenditure in the world.  The statistics are impressive.  It has been reported that the US accounted for 41.5% of global military spending in 2008 having a price tag of $700 billion, distantly followed by China (5.8% of world share), France (4.5%), UK (4.5%), and Russia (4.0%).  The next 10 countries combined account for 21.1% of global military spending.  Our country outspent its closest 14 competitors combined.  Do not misinterpret what is being said here.  I am not judging the spending or the priority.  The point is that all citizens of this country are required to financially support our national priorities including the safety and security of our country.  They all are required to chip in to the extent required by law.

But when it comes to the health and well-being of our citizens, the very ones who fund our national priorities, the very ones who provide the financial means to keep us safe and secure, we tell them that they are on their own?  That their ability to afford or obtain insurance to provide for their and/or their family’s health and well-being can be determined by whether or not they are profit risk to a corporation or whether they just can plain afford the insurance?  One is considered patriotic for supporting our military but is labeled a socialist for supporting affordable healthcare coverage for the less fortunate of our citizenry?  This behavior is unconscionable, morally corrupt and speaks to misplaced priorities.  If our citizens are required to financially support our national priorities including the safety and security of our country, we need to also assure that we take care of the health and well-being of not just of those who can afford it but the less fortunate of our contributing citizens as well.

Our country gave away over a trillion dollars in projected surpluses and then acquired $4 trillion in debt when in 2001 it reverted to the same supply-side tax cut policies that caused the largest sustained run-up of debt in US history between 1981-1992 (reference my article on Supply-Side Tax Cut Legislation on this blog).  The financial benefit of these tax cuts, the largest single contributor to the deficits, was heavily skewed to the upper 1% of income earners in this country while providing paltry to negligible benefit to middle America and the poor.  Would not the money that we wound up putting back into the pockets of the wealthiest of our citizens, those who can most afford healthcare, have been well spent in providing for the less fortunate of our taxpaying citizens?  What were our priorities as a nation?  I write this having been in the top 1% of income earners in the 1990’s and did not mind contributing an additional 3.6% extra on upper level income back into the system that allowed me to do well and to keep it well.

I devoted my career to the study and treatment of disease.  I believed that our findings and work should be to the benefit of all, not just those who could afford it.  During the time I ran my company, considered a small business having up to 40-50 employees, I provided a full array of benefits, at no cost to the employee, that put us in the top 5% of companies regardless of size.  It was a priority of mine to take care of those who worked for me and I footed the expense.  After selling the business I fortunately had the means to obtain a top notch private plan that we now pay about $15,000/year – out of reach for many families.  Following my wife’s stem cell transplant I went to the hospital pharmacy and picked up one month’s supply of medications having a price tag, after coverage, approaching $1,000.  I asked the question of how some could afford this.  The answer I got was simple, “They don’t”.

I stayed on the cancer ward where my wife was treated for an acute and aggressive leukemia, sleeping in a recliner chair in her room sometimes for weeks on end supporting her through difficult treatment and some uncertain times.  Serious illness strikes both the have’s and the have-nots; it does not discriminate.  I got to know many families on the hall; we all shared a common bond – a loved one in difficulty.  Some of what I saw was heartbreaking, and I must admit that it is emotionally difficult to write this, as I watched families spend their hard earned life savings fighting for the life of a loved one, all too often a losing fight.  There are those who can not obtain or afford healthcare coverage because of a pre-existing condition, who continue to work because they would be excluded from coverage should they lose their job, and those who have exhausted their lifetime maximum benefit. These people are our citizens, the very taxpayers who financially support our country, and yet our country, having the world’s largest economy, will not assure healthcare coverage for the less fortunate of them.

In my teaching of leadership practices to business, graduate students and foster children, I put forth my three priorities as health, family and career – in that order (reference my article  ‘Life and Career Advice to a Younger Friend’ on this blog).  Health is number one because if we lose that we lose all.  I have had little argument about those priorities.  We need to make affordable healthcare coverage not only a priority but a right for every citizen in this country.  We can not have it both ways.  If all of our citizens are required to fund our national priorities to the extent required by law, then we have an obligation to assure that all of them are taken care of as well.

Selected Reading

1.  World Military Spending, Global Issues, Updated September 13, 2009

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