A Healthy Nation

…is certainly preferable to a terminally-ill one…

“if we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, 29 November 1802


Healthcare in America has become a significant source of consternation for the government and general public alike.  And it should be.  Somehow we have become the only modern first world democracy whose healthcare system is so broken that a visit to the doctor can bankrupt a person.  The question of what role our government should play has become intensely heated.  Yet as always happens, our elected officials have been unable to find a true solution grounded in compromise and yet constitutionally sound.  Instead we are left with a false dichotomy of choices that equate to either doing nothing or handing over management of healthcare to our already beleaguered government.  But are those really the only solutions to this very real problem?  The key to appropriate government involvement isn’t whether or not the government is involved, but how they are involved.  The all-or-nothing mentality may be popular among political pundits, but it’s not how our government was intended to function nor how it functions best.  We need a different approach – one that works with the type of democratic society we have developed over the last two and a half centuries.

It’s true that our Founding Fathers felt that in terms of government involvement, less was more.  And they definitely would have been unable to conceive of the healthcare crisis in our country as it now stands.  Revolutionary-era medicine was rudimentary at best, and frequently ineffective.  Becoming a doctor was no guarantee of a lucrative career, and the entire industry that has built up around the modern practice of medicine did not exist.  But the Founders did leave laws and methods for the regulation of commerce, and we can definitely all agree that modern medicine has become commercialized.  And therein lies their solution and ours – appropriate regulation.  The healthcare industry has become like the monopolies of the late 19th century (that’s the 1800, dear readers).  These monopolies grew so powerful that they eroded the public good in their pursuit of profit.  It wasn’t until the government stepped in with strong anti-trust legislation which effectively broke the backs of the monopolies that the societal problems created by these businesses were in any way corrected.  But they didn’t take them over!  They regulated them; regulation which remains to this day.  Our healthcare woes are real.  But we don’t need the government to waste tax dollars creating a new bureaucracy and a new system.  We need the government to do what the founders designed it to do – regulate commerce.  Strong regulation of the healthcare system would remake the industry in the same ways that anti-trust legislation remade big business practices.  Why hesitate to legislate?  The only real reasons are the same ones that left monopolies alive and well for so long…the healthcare industry has bought its way into politics, just as the robber barons of the 1800s did.  Until we break the back of an industry built on putting a price on our very lives, our healthcare system will itself  remain broken.


Res Publica


Documentation without Representation:

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, 29 November 1802


Electronic Text Courtesy of Monticello’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation

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