September 2009

Top of This issue Currrent issue

Health Care: Caught Between Head and Heart

by Megan Argo

A strong commitment to liberty and freedom defines America, and personally, I do want the freedom to make health care 
choices to suit my individual preferences.  Caring communities also make up America, and none of us want to see people 
in need of care be forced to go without it. This tension between the draws of liberty and compassion seems to me to be 
what the health care debate is really all about.  
Approaches to health care are so widely varied that I would prefer a system that preserves and even increases our ability 
to make health care choices. One area where choice could be enhanced is complementary health care. Alternative therapies 
are generally not covered by most insurance companies, and this lack of coverage hampers the ability of those that want 
that care to take advantage of these resources. I would love to see some flexibility brought into our system for people 
that would like to make alternative health care choices. One example of this flexibility is the Whole Foods’ employee model 
discussed in a recent controversial article by CEO John Mackey. Employees get 100% coverage of high deductible 
insurance and extra health care dollars to spend as they choose. A plan with this sort-of flexibility covers emergency 
situations and preserves health care choices. 
When I lived in Oregon, my family had a very flexible health care plan that allowed us to choose a homeopathic physician 
as our family primary care doctor and have services covered with a minimal co-pay. I’ve never in my life been so pleased 
with my actual care and my health care coverage, but when we moved to New Mexico, no such alternative was available. 
Given the lack of insurance coverage, even the practice of homeopathic medicine is completely different in this state 
because of how difficult it would be to make a living in a homeopathic practice that requires all patients to pay 100% out 
of pocket.  
This leads me to the state of our current health insurance choices, and the fact that health insurance is already regulated to 
prevent the sale of insurance over state lines. If I could have brought my flexible and affordable health insurance policy 
with me to New Mexico, as a consumer I would have had the ability to give some real meaning to my preference for health 
care choice. This all raises a serious question for me about whether the ways that we currently regulate the health 
insurance industry could be unnecessarily interfering with the competition that in theory should keep prices affordable 
and care consistent with consumer demands. 
Now, on the flip-side of this, there is no doubt that the refusal of coverage, the dropping of coverage when most needed, 
or the unjustifiable limits on coverage for care ordered by a qualified doctor are problems we need to address. A system 
where nightmarish health and financial crises happen with such frequency is not sustainable. According to Drs. Steffie 
Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, "Illness and medical bills contribute to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies - a 50 
percent increase since 2001. And three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had insurance, at least when they first got sick." 
The for-profit nature of our health care industry needs to at least be examined if we’re going to find a workable solution to 
our health care problems. 
The tension that I see here is between the market competition theory that works because of the for-profit drive, and the 
industry of health care which has been driven more by the desire of those with skills and tools to heal those that are sick. 
The theory of market competition has proved its success over time in a wide array of arenas, but are we seeing one place 
where competition won’t lead us to the highest level of competence? 
Looking at the facts, we have to admit that although we have access to the best medical technologies and the latest 
pharmaceuticals, we are not among the healthiest nations in the world. According to U.S. doctor Andrew Weil, “The U.S. 
ranked near the very bottom of the top 40 nations -- below Columbia, Chile, Costa Rica and Dominica -- in a rating of 
health systems by the World Health Organization in 2000. In short, we pay about twice as much per capita for our health 
care as does the rest of the developed world, and we have almost nothing to show for it.” 
So, although so many would call our health care system the best in the world, the facts point to a different conclusion. Our 
current standard of care and general health education is shameful considering the extraordinary costs. Undoubtedly, our 
health care system has wonderful things to offer, given the people that travel here from around the world to take 
advantage of our services, but we have to acknowledge this disconnect between cost and actual health. We have to 
question whether the motivations driving our current system are really serving the overall goal of furthering health. 
In questioning the for-profit nature of our health care system, I get led down the path of wondering whether universal 
health care managed by the government could be a better alternative. Despite the dark media picture of socialized 
medicine, I've personally heard different accounts from people that are satisfied with health care in countries where it is 
run by the government. A single-payer system would remove the for-profit component and increase access to health care 
for the many disenfranchised Americans, but would we be losing something unique and valuable in our health care system 
if we took that turn? Would we begin to chip away at our liberty and ability to choose health care to suit our individual 
lifestyles and values? Would this be the first step down a slippery slope into a monstrous sized government that takes 
away even more of our freedom to control the money that we individually create with our hard work and innovation? 
My heart says that basic health care is a human right. I see or hear about a person that is sick and needs services, and I 
feel so strongly that the right thing to do is provide those services, regardless of their cost. The historical ethics of health 
care seem to have run on that theory. Healing the sick is something that human beings with the talent have done forever; 
this service is part of how we’ve thrived as a species. It is our compassion, our identity, and our pride. This basic virtue is 
so essential to what being human means to me.  
Then, my head is driven by the individuality of the culture where I was born and raised. As a kid, when I pledged allegiance 
to the flag and sang ‘America the Beautiful,’ I believed in the dream of freedom, of individually charted destiny, of the right 
to live a life of our own design. I don’t want to give up that dream, and the emotion, anger and fear that we’re seeing 
thrive in this health care debate seems to come in part from the many people that are so afraid they’re being asked to let 
go of that dream.  
So, I have no answers, but I do have these two sides that I’m straddling in trying to figure out what really would be best - 
in the present, but more importantly down the line. There’s too much at stake to do anything until we’ve fully considered 
the possibilities with an eye towards the future. According to the law of the Iroquois Confederacy, “In our every decision, 
we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” I realize that the time to take some action is 
clearly upon us, but the potential to create different problems is too high to take action without first picking apart the 
lengthy proposals on the table and clearing up the mass of confusion that enshrouds this issue.