Alex Blaze

It's my fault: Thoughts on health culpability from France

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 11, 2008 9:28 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: France, free market, health care reform, Kimya Dawson, libertarianism

My head is pounding I can't stop the pounding
I think it is going to explode
And kill everybody who's in close proximity to the place I call my home
--Kimya Dawson

No, I'm not trying to be deep or suggestive or anything by starting a post with song lyrics; my head is actually pounding and it does feel like it's going to explode.

Kimya had sinusitis when she wrote that song, but I just have a cold. It's the fourth illness I've had since I moved to France four months ago, ironically implying that the country with the greatest health care system in the world is causing my health to markedly deteriorate (3 colds and one flu, ugh!).

One of my favorite topics to blog about is health care because that the US doesn't have universal coverage and a simple single-payer system is a national shame. The argument's been made I'm sure millions of times in these parts, but it's worth repeating: the richest country in the world should be leading in terms of the humanity it can provide all its citizens.

But that's just not the way Americans think. We're one of the few people in the world who wake up and hate our government every day. I don't want to be forced to buy Hillary-care, we hear, but being forced to stay home when sick by sky-rocketing health care costs or being dicked around by a private health care provider when you're trying to get an item covered doesn't count as submitting to authority. That, we're told, is someone's choice.

It's interesting that "choice" has turned into such an ugly word in the American political discourse. He chose to cross the border illegally, so he can starve in the desert for all we care! She chose to drop out of high school, so if she can't afford child care to work, that's her fault!

And on the other hand, choice is the best thing ever, better than a quality product, because being free from government regulation is an end in and of itself. Whether it's gun choice, women's choice, school choice, or even that "choice to get married" rhetoric that pops up every now and then in gay activism, being opposed to choice is awful. But human death, embryo death, poor education, and broken families are the results of choices. Go figure.

That push-pull of choice defines the opposition to health care, both in policy rhetoric and social rhetoric. Opponents are quite comfortable with publicly declaring everyone free to choose to be poor, as this comment from a hospital owner with a $300M fortune indicates (from Barbara Ehrenreich):

But Dr. Reddy -- who is, incidentally a high-powered Republican donor -- has a principled reason for his piratical practices. "Patients," the Los Angeles Times reports him saying, "may simply deserve only the amount of care they can afford." He dismisses as "an entitlement mentality" the idea that everyone should be getting the same high quality health care. This is Bush's vaunted principle of "private medicine" at its nastiest: You don't get what you need, only what you can pay for.

That's choice #1 that the working class, impoverished, and sick make: the choice not to be rich.

Choice #2 is, of course, the choice to be sick. Back in the 80's and 90's the going argument against funding for AIDS that the victims made their choices, so they can suffer the consequences. They could have abstained from sex, so why didn't they?

I've heard it around more recently, what with people talking about not wanting to pay for others' choices to smoke, to drink, to overeat, to be lethargic. While it's not as prevalent and vile as it was when referencing AIDS in the gay community, the basic message that choice is wonderful and must be protected but that choice is also awful and can destroy you and no one's going to do anything about it is still clear.

But what I'm thinking about as I'm sitting out here incurably sick (even the French don't have a cure for the cold, even if it's a nasty one) is where these lines of culpability get drawn. My culpability in getting sick here is absolutely clear to me: I chose four months ago to move to a new continent, which I knew would expose me to new pathogens, and I chose to work in an elementary school, which is a hot-bed for germs, kids are so grubby and gross and filled with viruses and bacteria.

By all accounts, I had as much ability to prevent my getting sick here as someone who got lung cancer from smoking had a choice not to smoke or someone who caught an STD had a choice not to have sex. So why did I get to stay home and force everyone to pick up the slack around me at work? Jeez, I didn't have to get sick.

As always, the frontiers of choice are drawn for the purposes of protecting power and separating us from one another (heaven forbid we try to encourage healthy habits before people get sick, or that we're encouraged to do so because the costs of Everybody Choose Whatever are explicitly communal instead of covertly so) is particularly useful when people are seeking legislation that would, if properly implemented, take away a disproportionate amount of money from the wealthy.

Still got my ibuprofen and water, so I'm doing fine.


(And you can get that mp3 free and legally. Thanks to Kevin in the comments for pointing that out!)


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Being sick sucks. I'm down to 100.0 now, so I'm on the mend. I don't think we've ever both been down at the same time before...

Well, I used to be one of the fortunate ones who had pretty good health coverage(though it Still didn't cover GRS, but then this is America, not Iran or some place progressive). Then I got laid off, and I could only afford COBRA for a few months.

Now I am in the same boat as most others. Luckily, with the exception of my sinuses and allergies, I have been healthy, but all it takes is one serious illness, and I am bankrupt.

Yep, all my fault, guess I 'chose' to get myself laid off somehow.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | February 12, 2008 11:14 PM

Sorry you're sick, Alex. Hope you feel better soon!