Despite the attraction of opening with the linguistically clever wish for “osher va’osher” (happiness and wealth – which are both “osher” in Hebrew, with one homophone beginning with the letter alef and the other with the letter ayin) in the Shanah Tovah greetings I send at the Jewish New Year, I make sure to first extend wishes for bri’ut (health).
The reason for this is because, like so many of us, I always heard parents and grandparents saying, “You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health.” Very true…if you live in Canada, where I grew up (or in any of the many Western, industrialized democracies with socialized medicine and/or universal healthcare coverage). But here in the United States, this saying has no validity unless the word “insurance” is added to the end of it.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, as health insurance and healthcare reform in this country appear to be going nowhere. Yesterday morning I found myself – yet again- asking, “What the hell is wrong with this country?” in response to two particular news stories I read in the newspaper and heard on the radio. The first was about the $75 million drug heist from an Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse in Connecticut this past Sunday. The Associated Press has reported that, unsurprisingly, these types of extreme pharmaceutical thefts are on the rise in the US. “Security experts say the incentives behind pharmaceutical theft are largely confined to the U.S. and unlikely to change anytime soon. ”’Whenever you have a health care system where drugs are very expensive and there’s a fragmented supply chain, you’re going to have a means to profit from stolen drugs,”’ said Ron Greene, a spokesman for FreightWatch. According to Greene, pharmaceutical theft is virtually nonexistent in Europe, where government controls keep drug prices low and most people have health care coverage.”
The second piece was a report on NPR’s Morning Edition about pro- and anti-healthcare reform legislation protesters outside the district office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy in Columbus, Ohio. On one hand, there were people there saying things like, “We just took the time to come out here today to try to stop this stuff from getting rammed down our throats…. We really don’t want it.” And on the other, “I’m here because I believe health care is a right…I believe that people’s lives are being destroyed by the system that’s currently in place.” I tend to agree with the latter opinion.
Which brings me to why I was so disturbed by what I heard toward the end of the radio report, which you can listen to in its entirety by clicking here. I was almost jolted out of the seat of my car as the protesters’ loud shouts, raw anger and virulent accusations against one another and the government emanated from my dashboard’s speakers. One protester lashed out at another, shouting, “You’re crazy! You’re crazy!” Actually, I imagine that people in countries such as Canada, France, Israel, and the like, are looking on at these types of scenes here and thinking that all of us Americans (citizens and residents alike) are crazy. For them, healthcare is indeed a right, a given that allows them to feel a degree of security in life and make career and other choices without having to be chained to a job solely because of the health insurance it provides (of course, in this country right now, you are lucky to even have a job, let alone one that offers good benefits, if any).
This is supposedly a republic, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all (hey, you don’t have to be a citizen to have memorized The Pledge of Allegiance). So, what happened to the justice, the tzeddek? According the Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed (3:53), “Justice denotes the act of granting to every one who has a right to something, that which he has a right to and giving to every being that which corresponds to his merits.” So, justice means giving a person something because she is owed it by the repaying of an obligation or simply because she deserves it – without any connection to anything she has done for anyone else. Not everything in life needs to be a quid pro quo. Sometimes when you do right by others, you end up doing right by yourself. “For when you walk in the way of moral virtue, you do justice unto your rational soul [nefesh], giving her the due that is her right,” says Maimonides.
Or I could just skip my appeal to Americans’ sense of morality all together and take the more tachlis (practical, bottom line, “tell it like it is”) approach of a Facebook page of which I am a fan. It’s called, “Were you dissing Canada? I couldn’t hear you over my healthcare benefits.”
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.
Update: On March 21, 2010, the US Congress passed healthcare/health insurance reform legislation that will be signed into law by President Obama on March 23. This is the first major overhaul of the country’s healthcare system in decades, and although it does not amount to the kind of universal healthcare/socialized medicine types of systems in many other countries, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Click here to read the front page article in The New York Times on the passage of the Senate and House bills, and click here to read about how the change in legislation will impact Americans in a “tachlis” (bottom line, practical) manner.