Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 | 2 a.m.
During the CNN/Tea Party Express debate among Republican presidential contenders last week, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked about health care, which has been a hot topic on the right wing. Many conservatives have bashed government-sponsored health plans and have said people should be responsible for their own care.
Blitzer laid out a hypothetical situation: A 30-year-old man in good health and with a good job decides not to buy health insurance, but then something terrible happens and he ends up in a coma. Blitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul who should pay in that situation.
Paul, a doctor and a staunch libertarian, said the man should be responsible. Blitzer then followed up, asking what happens if the man is in intensive care for months?
“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul said to some cheers.
“But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” Blitzer asked.
That’s not what Paul was saying. He was arguing for personal responsibility and against government bureaucracy in health care.
But it’s notable that before Paul could answer, there was a shout from the audience — “Yeah!” A few other voices in the audience joined in agreement.
Among conservatives, there has been great consternation over government involvement in health care. They have fought the new health care law over the mandate that everyone has to buy health insurance. Supporters of the proposal say the issue should help lower the cost of health care, but conservatives say government has no right to make anyone buy insurance.
Lost in that type of rhetoric is the point raised by Blitzer’s question: Real lives are affected by public policy. In health care, the issues can literally be life and death, and the ideology of the far right does have consequences. Would someone without insurance get any care at all, or would he be left to die because he failed to get his own insurance? Would the government help or would he be dependent on the kindness of strangers?
Certainly, there is a price tag for health care — a major illness can bankrupt someone with insurance, much less someone without it — and there is a debate to be had about what costs the public does or doesn’t pay. But the bottom line is that human lives are at stake, and as a nation, we shouldn’t lose sight of that.