During an otherwise dull health care town hall meeting on Wednesday, a woman identifying herself as Debby fought back tears as she described her health predicament to President Obama.
In 1998, Debby said, she underwent radiation treatment to kill a tumor — but the radiation caused other health problems, making it impossible for her to work. Now, she has another tumor, but cannot get it taken care of because she doesn’t have health insurance or qualify for government programs.
“Well, here, come on over here,” Obama implored her, motioning Debby toward him. “We’re going to find out what — we’ll get your information and we’ll see what we can do to help you.”
Embracing her, Obama reassured, “I don’t want you to feel all — like you’re alone.”
He then used her situation to illustrate a broader point. “Debby is a perfect example of somebody who we should, in a country this wealthy, be able to provide coverage for her health care problems,” he said.
The town hall meeting itself was highly orchestrated — with a small number in attendance and online questions being screened by the White House. Even none other than Helen Thomas complained to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the event being staged.
During the session, Obama received questions from an advocate of a socialized, or single-payer health care, a representative of the liberal activist group Health Care for Americans Now, and a member of the Service Employees International Union. “What can I do, as a member of the union, to help you with your reform bill?” the woman asked.
But the moment with Debby stood out. It was the sort of human touch that Bill Clinton mastered and that Obama, though at times emotionally distant as a candidate, has grown more comfortable with as president. Back at a February town hall meeting, one woman — Henrietta Hughes — asked Obama for a home while 19-year old Julio Osegueda wanted the president to help him get better benefits at his job at McDonald’s.
No politician wants to tell those who are facing hardships that the government cannot do anything to help, but the result is a populace that looks to elected officials to take care of them. There’s no polite way of telling somebody who is suffering that government cannot insulate everybody from the vicissitudes of life.
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings,” Winston Churchill once said, adding, “the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” And nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to health care.
Government-run health care systems might guarantee coverage to everybody in theory, but in practice they do not. “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” the chief justice of the Canadian Supreme Court wrote in a 2005 decision. The ruling came in a case brought by a Quebec man who was told he would have to wait a year for hip surgery in the country’s single-payer system, which rations care to save costs.
Shona Holmes, an Ontario woman, was forced to travel to the United States to seek urgent treatment for her brain tumor after she was told she would have to wait 6 months in Canada, by which point she says she would have died. Of course, if Obama gets his way and government takes over health care in America, then stories of Canadians like Shona won’t have happy endings.
Obama dismisses the idea that he wants government to take over health care as a mere “scare tactic.” In reality, Obama has previously said he was a proponent of a single-payer system and he maintains that it would be the ideal system if we were starting from scratch. At the town hall meeting, he said that in other countries a “single-payer plan works pretty well” because if “you eliminate private insurers, you don’t have the administrative costs and the bureaucracy and so forth.”
Instead of supporting single-payer outright, Obama has been pushing the idea of creating a new single-payer plan within the current system that people will migrate to over time. He calls this longer road to government-run health care a “uniquely American solution.”
But if Obama wants to expand coverage and reduce spending at the same time, the only solution is to ration care. There’s no way that the government can cut costs by eliminating “unnecessary” care without casting a wide enough net to prevent individuals from obtaining care they deem necessary. In the end, there is nothing more humane about a health care system run by the government. In acting to help the Debbys of the nation, Obama will create a new set of problems for many others.
UPDATE: The AP is reporting that Debby was a volunteer for Obama who received her ticket through the White House.