Critical Condition

Is Health-Care Reform Un-American?

The true answer is that it depends on what is meant by “health-care reform.” Obviously, enacting fiscal and regulatory policies that improve America’s health-care system doesn’t conflict with the founding principles of the country. But those who seek a government takeover of the system do, indeed, have to overcome traditional American values, or so they say themselves. From a “news” story in the Las Vegas Sun:

Two fundamental American values — capitalism and individualism — present obstacles to significant change. American culture embraces commerce, consumption and profit and elevates the rights of the individual over obligations to the community. This makes it easy for some critics to heap disdain on changes that can be painted as limiting free enterprise, cutting into profits or leading to the real boogeyman — socialism.

American cultural values are “incredibly powerful forces” that influence the debate, said Eric Wright, director of the center for health policy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The problem has been that we’re not making those value distinctions explicit.”

Health care reform advocates are urging a shift in perspective so that medicine moves from a private good, for the benefit of individuals, to a social good for the benefit of all. This raises fears of “rationing,” Wright said, but health care is already rationed — on the basis of a person’s ability to get health insurance.

People don’t talk about the cultural values that influence the debate because “it gets too threatening, it sounds un-American,” Wright said. “It doesn’t matter what you propose, they’ll throw out the ‘s-word’ — socialism.”

Well, at least we understand each other.