When I set out to run errands this past Monday, I followed a familiar route, but I found myself looking at things differently.
Early in the drive, I passed my optometrist’s office. Two minutes later, there was my cardiologist’s office. Two miles farther, I noted my gastroenterologist’s place on my left, and almost immediately thereafter, my urologist’s office on the right. After a short detour to stop at a local business, I continued, almost immediately passing the office of my podiatrist. As I stopped to turn onto a different street, I could see my hematologist’s office several hundred yards away. Only my primary care physician and the physical therapist who works on my back were not set up along that particular route.
I was especially conscious of this abundance of medical care because I have been seen by six of these folks within the past few weeks, including the primary care doctor and the physical therapist. I am being seen by two of them this week and more the following week. Appointments land on top of other appointments. I had to postpone a physical therapy appointment next week in favor of a conflicting cardiology appointment, on the grounds that my heart is more important than my back.
This recitation is not intended to illustrate that I am falling apart, although that does seem to be the case. My point is that there is an incredible amount of medical care available, and I am fortunate to have excellent medical coverage and therefore am able to access it. Great numbers of our citizens cannot. At least I can spend my time worrying about my ailments, not about whether I can get the care I need. They don’t have that luxury.
My father died a few weeks before his 61st birthday. He succumbed to medical issues that were difficult to control at the time, although handled with relative ease today. Plus, if such a thing as medical coverage was available in 1956, it was low level and only available to people who could afford it. That did not include my family. I have so far enjoyed 23 years more of life than my dad did. Some of that may be luck of the draw, but a lot of it is a matter of my having access to the best medical care, some of which has saved my life in the last several years.
I have no master plan of medical coverage to propose. I only suggest that we have to do better than we are doing. Yes, there are always cries of “socialized medicine,” which is inaccurate and misleading unless we are talking about the government controlling all aspects of medicine, including the production of drugs, the treating of patients, and the management of costs. What many countries have, and what I think we could have, is adequate and affordable insurance for everybody. I wish we could set aside the fear we have of some names and theories, and work instead on sensible solutions.
I find it hard to believe that people should be allowed to suffer ill health and in many cases die prematurely, simply because we are afraid of certain words that we think indicate an abandonment of American principles. Basic health care is as much an appropriate province of government as is basic public education, and the value to the nation as a whole is similar. An educated population is a fundamental requirement if democratic government is to function effectively and be protected from political bandits. A healthy population is a fundamental requirement if the country is to thrive. Healthy people tend to be productive people.
Unfortunately, there is, I’m convinced, a bit of the same anger sometimes directed at people on SNAP, more familiarly known as food stamps. It’s an attitude of “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own and should not get anything you haven’t earned.” I don’t share that attitude. I’m immensely grateful that I have adequate health coverage to keep me as healthy as good doctors can manage. I’d like for everybody to be that fortunate.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”