Monday, November 8, 2010

Life Lines 27


Until the early 1600s health care in Great Britain was primarily a family or church matter. If the poor could not afford their care, the Church provided the hospitals for their care. That ended because Henry VIII divorced his wife; he was excommunicated; and Henry dumped the Church and set up his own Anglican Church. He abolished the old Church’s activities and made Poor Laws replace the charity of the church. Health was secularized. Taxes were raised to provide the poor with help if widowed, sick, orphaned, or unemployed. As the Industrial Revolution began, cities increased in population and this led to social changes, including increased crime, poverty, and people unable to earn their own living. Private charity could not keep up with the needs and a tension developed between extending poor laws and cutting back taxes to support them. That tension still exists today because the problems of living guarantee some people will be born with genetic infirmities, others will have accidents or diseases rendering them disabled, others will develop psychoses, and some will be born with much reduced mental capacity for most employments. For some good luck prevails. They are born normal and healthy in normal and healthy families and have never experienced serious disease or financial troubles. For others bad luck prevails and generations of people live in poverty and cannot climb out of it, especially if they are looked upon as innately degenerate, unfit to reproduce, or depraved. Most of humanity has setbacks along the way and for this reason insurance of all sorts has prevailed since the industrial revolution began. It is a way to spread risks. We willingly do so for our homes, our cars, and even our lives.

The cost of health has changed dramatically in my own life. When my first child was born in 1957 it cost me $200 and my salary, as a graduate student, was $1000 a year. A few years later I was a full time teacher in Canada and my next child was free. We were also given a monthly stipend just for having a child! A few years later we were at UCLA and the rest of our children were born. I was covered by the University’s health insurance plan and while it was now about $1000 per birth, I had to pay a deductible of $200 for each birth. I thought to myself that health insurance was a way of inflating health costs without actually reducing them below the costs before there was health insurance. Today I have a mixture of health plans. Medicare is great. I have the physicians I admire, I can go to the hospitals they are associated with, and it costs me very little from my social security to pay for it. My dental insurance is worthless. I used to get checks for one dollar back for routine treatment and not much more for more serious work like root canals (I later signed up for much reduced costs by having some of those root canals done at the University clinic and I got some free periodontal care by volunteering as a human guinea pig for new treatments). Hearing aids and eyeglasses? Except for a modest reduction from a union benefit plan, forget about it. For this reason I am much more sympathetic to government run plans. I agreed with Michael Moore’s analysis in Sicko. I agreed with Senator Edward Kennedy’s plan, which included a choice for government subsidized public health care. I don’t for a minute believe in the scare stories about “socialized medicine.” I am far more scared by stories about corporate lobbying, fake grassroots movements, and outright deception by advertising groups hired by health corporations seeking to preserve their privileges and profits.

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