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Make up your own mind about health care plan

August 03, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

Asked the difference between a recession and a depression, an economics professor of mine replied that "a recession is when you are out of work; a depression is when I am out of work."

Likewise, there's a big difference between health reform as a theoretical campaign issue and health care reform that is on the brink of becoming law.

Now, those of us who are fortunate enough to have good health insurance are bound to wonder if we should have been more careful about what we wished for. After all, the health care crisis is really only a health care crisis for the minority of people who have no access to health care.

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So what does it mean for the rest of us? Will our costs go up? Will our level of care go down? Will such a mammoth program break the national bank?

My best guesses are yes, no and maybe.

But we're all just guessing at this point. It's marginally amusing that every man on the street has all of a sudden become a self-proclaimed expert on health care. He knows that reform is good or he knows that reform is bad and he will be happy to tell you why -- based on information he has probably received from someone with a degree in the field of communications or advertising.

Your next-door neighbor does not know. Media pundits do not know. Members of Congress do not know. Even experts in the field do not know. We all have opinions, but the truth is, we will not find out whether health care is worth the cost until it is actually put in place. And even then, supporters will insist that it works and opponents will insist that it doesn't.

With a program of such proportions and so many variables, about all we can do is stick with what we do know.

Going in, we know that we can't get something for nothing. If we believe that more health care access for those in need is desirable, we -- all of us -- are going to have to pay.

We also know that millions of people are living on a wing and a prayer, hoping they can avoid sickness or injury because they cannot afford medical costs. We know that some people who are getting by comfortably enough at the moment run the risk of destitution should a serious medical need arise.

And finally, we know that medicine costs too much. We might not know why, or who is to blame, but we know our lives and health have been parlayed by the unscrupulous into a license to rake in obscene amounts of cash.

In this sense, insurance, especially employer-provided insurance, has been our worst enemy, because it shrouds what we pay. If we received itemized medical bills that we paid out of our own pockets, the public and its elected representatives would never stand for $50 syringes.

Naturally, getting the costs out of health care is the most important part. Naturally, it will be the hardest to achieve. Those special interests, from pharmaceutical companies, to insurers, to trial lawyers, to medical-device manufacturers that have padded their pockets at our expense will not go quietly into the night.

So given what we know for sure, does this offer clarity or give us good reason to support or oppose reform? Probably not. We know something's broken, but we don't know if the government plan will fix it.

Perhaps the best we can do is refrain form forming our opinions selfishly, or at least selfishly to excess. We all act in our own best interests, which is only normal and perfectly acceptable.

What is less acceptable in a civilized society is to believe that a mild discomfort to ourselves is more meaningful than an acute discomfort to someone else.

An advertisement by the beverage industry is currently attempting to drum up opposition to health care reform by warning that universal care might cost you -- hold onto your hats -- a few extra pennies on a bottle of soda pop.

So think about this the next time you are enjoying a Diet Coke: Would you deny other people health care if that bottle cost you an extra nickel?

Same goes for those tempted to support health care reform if it's paid for exclusively by a tax on the wealthy -- i.e., by someone else. We all have a hand in this, and it's dishonest to support a program if we ourselves are not willing to ante up.

I personally have nothing to gain at the moment from universal health care, save for the knowledge that some small sacrifice on my part might help those who are in much more desperate straits. For me, that's enough. But I would not take exception with someone in my exact same situation for opposing the plan on the grounds that the costs to the nation would outweigh the benefits.

And that, in the end, is the best we can do when there are so many unknowns. We can make up our own minds. We sacrifice a great right when we let others make up our minds for us.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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