It is a principle of community that each watch out for the other as much as possible—for reasons of safety, childrearing, role modeling, and stability. Oftentimes, people do not want to get involved in the neighborhood, for a focus on community seems to take away from individual concern and prosperity. Because of this tradition of self-centeredness and a combination of anthropophobia (i.e., fear of people) and soteriophobia (fear of dependence on others), the notion of sacrifice for the betterment of neighborhoods and the overall community has been anathema in American traditions in social relations.
Hence, it is no wonder that many people are up in arms that people are required to purchase health insurance, even when they are not sick or have not had any serious ailment. The major individualistic strand in the United States condemns any governmental mandate—alleging that it interferes with human freedom and the right to decide what to do with hard-earned income. Usually, there is little, if any, consideration about how their participation, or sacrifice, might help others challenged by existential circumstances. Those who can easily afford buying health insurance ruthlessly chime in, in opposition to mandate because they are hesitant to support any measure that goes against their frequently rudimentary and erroneous understanding of old-time laissez-faire capitalism and communism. Forcing people to buy into some plan, thought privately run, raises, to them, the specter of socialized medicine, Western society’s perennial nemesis.
When I was in professional school, pursuing a post-baccalaureate in religious and theological studies, I encountered a colleague who argued that the bible commands us to take care of ourselves and not to lift our hands and voices on behalf of the needy. I was both alarmed and appalled, and I genuinely wondered whether I was missing a few pages in my copy of the scriptures or had gotten my hands on an underground, subversive copy somehow! One of the most ubiquitous messages and lessons in the bible is to care for the exploited, marginalized, and oppressed.
By buying into health insurance, the healthy help to drive down the escalating costs of health care and enable those otherwise uninsurable to obtain minimal coverage. Just as we are required to pay taxes on our earnings to subsidize, for example, the military-industrial complex and rarely make any bones about it, we should likewise refuse to rankle over reducing the costs of medical care through buying into health insurance.
Why would anyone with a modicum of decency allow one’s nebulous comprehension of rights and freedoms to trump the receipt of healthcare services to those currently unable to acquire them? Private insurers are looking for the bottom line: money and profits. They do not care whether a person receives insurance, for anyone denied is quickly replaced by another who’s picked up. The cruelty of the market economy is clearly discerned, and the only way to curb its inertial juggernaut is through radical intervention by the public and governmental sectors.
I am not a doomsday theorist. However, it is incumbent upon me to say that the United States cannot continue to survive without changing its economic structure’s reliance on free enterprise market capitalism. For this system disproportionately makes paupers and exculpates imperviousness to the needs of others. An economic approach that works first to ensure fundamental and existential needs are met for everyone, including access to quality health care, would undergird our democratic republic and launch new vistas of opportunity. It would also help us to be perceived better in the world and become a harbinger of efforts for global peace.
Finally, we could become a nation that not only pays lip service to human rights, but also transforms itself from a sad tradition of rugged, dispassionate individualism to the fulfillment of the beloved community and a society of the best possible.