The nationalization of health care in America has become the most divisive political issue in my memory.
It virtually defines the right and the left, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
It divides TV channels, friends, families, even husbands and wives.
Case in point. My good friend, Ernie Phillips confesses being totally confused by the arguments of his two, intelligent, passionate brothers who come at him from opposite sides of the issue.
Like Ernie, I have a disposition toward peacemaking. Thus this effort to look for common ground.
To begin at the beginning, I pose the question, who should pay for health care?
For the moment. let's leave the question of affordability out of it.
The question is, in a perfect world, who has, or should have he legal and moral responsibility to pay the doctor, the nurse, the druggist and the hospital?
Here's a list of possibles: the city, the county, the state, the federal government, the insurance companies, the patient, the parents, the children, the grandparents, the grandchildren, the neighbors, the church, the rich, the middle class, the employer, the taxpayers, the Chinese.
OK, I wasn't serious about the Chinese. Just trying to keep the discussion light hearted.
I suspect that both sides would agree that the patient is or should be the primary source of payment for his or her own health care.
Conservatives might then say, "Case closed. Let the free enterprise system take it from there."
Liberals, of course, will reply, "Wait a minute. What if the patient can't afford to pay?"
Ok, let's assume the patient can't pay. Take the patient (and the Chinese) out of my list of possibles, and ask the question again.
Who has, or should have the legal and moral responsibility to pay for health care, if the patient cannot?
The first answer that comes to mind, and probably most folks, regardless of political persuasion would agree on this, is "It all depends."
Are we talking about a new born baby? A college student? A ninety year old? A wounded veteran? A policeman or fire fighter injured in the line of duty? Victim of an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami? Or of a nationwide epidemic?
Should it matter that the patient's malady stems from voluntary causes? The obese patient with diabetes or heart trouble? The helmetless motorcyclist? The smoker with lung cancer?
Our churches and our humanity teach us that all people have obligations in charity. To feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to heal the sick, to comfort the afflicted, to teach the young, to help the poor, to defend the weak, to bury the dead.
But leaving the health care of the needy to private philanthropy would not satisfy even the most conservative precincts. Someone has to decide who takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
While most folks agree on that point, they part company on the question of who should make those decisions.
For over 200 years in America, health care has been dealt with by state and local governments. Doctors, dentists and nurses are licensed by the states; cities and counties have established hospitals. Health insurance providers have been regulated by state laws and state insurance commissioners.
It has long been assumed that health care comes within the residue of state sovereignty protected by the tenth amendment. Our constitutional founders intended to leave state governments in full control of the health, welfare and safety of their citizens.
Even the most ardent conservative will have to concede that if a given state wants to enact a system of socialized medicine, it would have the perfect right and power under the constitution to do so.
That is one of the great strengths of our federal union; the states can experiment. If the people don’t like it, they can move to a state which is run more to their liking.
Nationalized health care deprives the states of their power to decide who pays the doctor, and takes from all Americans of the freedom of choice which the founders intended them to enjoy.