Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Just let those sinners die


The Bismarck Tribune had an article in its Sunday edition last week that was a rather disturbing example of how to save money in our health care system… just let smokers and obese people die. Note that I said how to save money rather than people.

This seems to be another example of how broken America’s health care system is. We Americans spend more on health care than anyone else in the world yet when compared to the 160 or so nations with developed health care systems we rank somewhere in the mid-30s. Thirty percent of what we spend on health care is considered wasted (over $800 billion/year) and we only have a 50-50 chance of getting the right care at the right time… and finally we have a better chance of dying from a medical error than a car accident…

We’ve reached the point where monthly family health insurance premiums far exceed $1,000 per month, and folks who’d like to retire keep working because they can’t afford health insurance… so now we’re worried about these costs and the answer is let those expensive patients die?

Wow, this certainly seems to be a good example of how money has become more important than people. Could this be the dark side of capitalism where competition far overshadows compassion? If you’re unable to compete you’re just left to die… the Presbyterian in me seems to think there’s something wrong here.

Let’s start with the concept of taxes where folks enjoy the services they provide but prefer that someone else pays for them… the “don’t tax me tax the guy behind the tree” crowd. In health care insurance the healthy pay for the sick… the more healthy people paying into the pool the less insurance costs.

As costs rise we all grouse about what we have to pay and it gets to the point where were some folks think that they shouldn’t have to pay for other folks self-induced sickness – (smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, overeating, etc). So let them die, and to assist in this matter, some folks think that we should set up the health police.

How far should we let the health police intrude into our lives? Should we set up cholesterol checks in restaurants (you walk in put your finger in a tube and it tells you whether you can have a Big Mac or a salad). How about smoke detectors in smoker’s homes (each time you light up it triggers a silent alarm that records your misbehavior… thus when you show up at the hospital they refuse to treat you). How about government issued scales that record whether or not you’re gaining or losing weight and the results are tied directly to your debit card, so when you show up at the grocery store it limits the type of food you can purchase?

I hope you’re following me here because there are all sorts of ways to save money on health care. For instance, should health insurance only pay for hearts and lungs or knees and cataracts… life and death or quality of life? Costs are easy to reduce – just take away the benefits.

Granted our behavior has a direct effect on costs, but it seems to me that instead of telling those who misbehave to go home and die, I can only hope that we are more compassionate than that as indeed, except for the grace of God there go I…

So given all that, the facts are that smokers and obese folks along with many other lifelong disorders usually die 10 years before those who aren’t afflicted by such maladies… thus, we are cheaper than those who live longer… those who live longer than average suffer the same deteriorating condition that all humans eventually succumb to, and thus cost more than those who die young…

When money becomes more important than people compassion tends to take a back seat… let’s hope that our best health care minds can finally quit complaining about costs of care and get back to caring about the folks they’re supposed to be treating.

I’ll leave you with one last question… would you being willing to volunteer to stand at the emergency room door and decide whose life gets saved?… I’m sure not interested in the job…