Friday, March 19, 2010

In Our Best Interests

The big showdown looms, but as what passes for debate concerning health care reform rages in the halls of Congress, twitters among the puditocracy, and clashes in town-hall shouting matches, I fear there is nothing everyone can support. The key may lie in identifying what no one can argue against.
“It is in this country’s best interests that each of its citizens be at his or her optimal level of health.”
Add any politically relevant adjective you like between “best” and “interests”: can the premise be refuted?
It is in the country’s best business interests. Healthy workers are productive workers. Healthy workers decrease the burden of health care costs on employers, allowing greater resources to be applied in improving the company’s competitiveness. This is particularly important when the competition is overseas, drawing from a healthier labor pool than American companies.
It is in the country’s national security interests. A healthy citizenry is better able to take up arms in defense of the nation should the need arise. More importantly, healthy citizens are more resilient in the face of disaster, be it of natural origin, rooted in human shortcomings, or a bioweapon attack.
It is in the country’s economic best interests. Beyond the benefits to business, citizens in optimal health are best able to both labor and enjoy the fruits thereof. That enjoyment will certainly involve healthy, prudent, and sustainable levels of consumption that will keep the economic engines turning and allow for broader levels of comfort and prosperity.
The premise “It is in this country’s best interests that each of its citizens be at his or her optimal level of health” is simple and straightforward, but with far-flung implications. These implications will surely need to be thoughtfully discussed and actions will need to be carefully chosen. This is the debate that should be occurring.
If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded “Healthy citizens are good business,” what recommendations would it make to its members? How would Wall Street react to those recommendations?
If the health of each American citizen was identified as a Homeland Security issue, how secure would you feel we are? What would be government’s responsibility? What would be our patriotic duty?
If the optimal health of every American became the national economic priority, how would the role of health insurance change? How would the activities of all business change when they are expected to “do good” for the health of their employees and customers, not merely “not provably do harm”?
It even would be productive to debate the premise itself, especially compared to the rancor currently flooding the airwaves and hearing rooms. The argument would be terribly lopsided, but it would flush out those more concerned with their self-interests, as opposed to the country’s best interests. It might finally put to rest arguments over what is patriotism, and what is not.
Any takers?