You can’t turn on the TV these days without hearing about health care reform. Some have, rightly I think, termed it the most significant public policy issue of our time. With over 46 million Americans without coverage (including roughly 9% of Michigan, some 800,000 people), it is a moral question of ensuring access to health care for these neighbors. With both businesses and governments buckling under increased costs it is a financial imperative as well. As the debate rages in Washington about how to tackle these giant issues, a proposal has surfaced in Lansing to put all state, school, and municipal employees under one health care umbrella. In both the national and state discussions it can be hard to keep up with this critical and complex issue and separate rhetoric from reality. For me I filter it all through two lenses, apart from my coke-bottle glasses (my wife’s term). For me it is about choice and values.
Though there are many shortcomings of the American health care system, one of its great benefits is that most of us have the freedom of choice. Choice of doctors, choice of whether or not to seek a second opinion, choice of treatments or hospitals – all these are of central importance to our health outcomes. This self-determination represents a measure of control over the well-being of ourselves and our families, arguably even preserving our right to the pursuit of happiness. Concerns over restricting choice have arisen for both the national and state proposals: in DC it’s the potential of centralized approval of treatment methods and in Michigan it’s the revoking of benefits that you may have already chosen to bargain for. Either path is of concern if you believe as I do that the ability to choose what is of value to each of us considering our individual circumstances must be preserved.
Speaking of values, as we scrutinize and debate the details of each plan and proposal we must not lose sight of the big picture. How we proceed will define what we as a people stand for. Do we look the other way as the gap in coverage between the rich and the poor widens? Should we strive to tear down our neighbors in a race to the bottom? Is it the interests of the individual or the institution that carry more weight? I’d like to think that our values compel us toward solutions that reinforce lifting everyone up and not leaving anyone out. As we weigh these issues against the backdrop of a changing state and country, I want to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences with me. Now more than ever the people should be heard.