A Nurse Takes on the Healthcare Debate

December 15, 2009
Lisa Schulmeister

What the nurse wrote for the New York Times, and how the public responded.

In a mid-November New York Times "Well" column, Theresa Brown, RN compared US healthcare to Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery." The lottery in the story refers to a fictional community's long-standing tradition of using a lottery to determine which member of the community will be stoned to death to ensure a good harvest. Brown then discussed the story of a patient who needed further treatment but lacked the funds for the treatment and questioned if our healthcare system is actually a lottery in terms of who receives non-emergency care and who is denied care (the only care that is currently assured for everyone in the US is emergency care).

As Brown wrote, "a public insurance plan offers a real alternative to the morally bankrupt idea that health care can and should be big business. Unless health insurance companies are in some way compelled to change their definition of success, we will all be at the mercy of policies that put profits before a patient’s life-and-death needs." In response, "Dave" posted that, "unfortunately, in this country, we confuse 'rugged individualism' with 'selfish individualism.' True freedom comes when we each take on the responsibility to cooperate in order to ensure that every member of the community is free from worry about shelter, food and health, the basic levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I have a responsibility to take care of me AND a responsibility to take care of my neighbor, no matter if my neighbor is a smoker, an eater or a jogger. Once people feel secure, this frees the creative energy to focus on building forward."

"Walter," a Canadian, wrote that as he watches these discussions "with amazement," he notes that there are "thousands dying because they have no coverage, thousands denied help because they are no longer going to be profitable to a just for profit health insurance plan. A public plan stops all this nonsense. When we go to hospitals, and doctors we knowing that if treatments are needed we will be covered. It is the only civilized way to go. If you folks can accept public run fire departments, police departments and Medicare for seniors why can you not accept public run health care? Who is profiting by this expensive insurance nonsense? It certainly is NOT the general population."

"Alex," a physician, wrote, "In my view, it’s partly the failure of our government to allow the market to work that’s led to this perverse incentive. If there ceased to be local monopolies of insurance companies, people could vote with their feet to obtain their health insurance elsewhere. Perhaps faced with this constant threat of competition, insurance companies would come to see that actually providing their customers better service (i.e., providing more comprehensive plans and covering appropriate medical care) would be to their financial benefit."

We need a single-payer, publicly financed national insurance plan for all. It's no longer a choice, but a necessity.