G.K. Chesterton was once asked to write a series of essays entitled “What’s Wrong with the World.” He readily admitted the hubris attendant in agreeing to such an assignment but rose to the task with his usual wit and energy.
Chesterton’s observations pierce the fog of oft-heard arguments with the usual force of his unusual vision. Though he never addressed the question of public healthcare specifically, his comments on the political issues of his day can shed a fresh light on the question of Obamacare, specifically on the principles inherent in the claims its supporters make.
Chesterton argues that “‘efficiency’ means that we ought to discover everything about a machine except what it is for… [whereas] Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence.” The idealism, in the Chestertonian sense, of the supporters of the Affordable Care Act should be considered before further analyses of their proposals’ efficiency are addressed. This essay proposes to consider just a few ideas, including the definition of healthcare and the healthcare priorities of the nation.
According to the healthcare debates, what is the general consensus of each side concerning the purpose of healthcare?
The medical field has a single, clear purpose: curing sickness. Obamacare.com suggests a different purpose: “Chronic diseases are the most common and costly of all health problems and by focusing on health and wellness, we can improve the health of our nation while driving our health care costs down.”
The Obamacare website goes on to emphasize that “75 percent of all healthcare expenditures go toward treating chronic diseases, many of which are preventable.” These statements imply that healthcare is only partly for the curing of sickness; rather, it should primarily be concerned with the maintenance of health.
Shifting the focus of the purpose of healthcare to the maintenance of health rather than the curing of sickness implicitly favors the young over the aged. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act often praise the increased support that the Act would provide for preventive healthcare.
Obamacarefacts.com argues, “Waiting to treat illness until a person is sick, instead of focusing on prevention, has had a direct effect on the rising health care costs in the U.S. [and]…making key preventive services free…helps Americans stay healthy…”
Preventive care does not facilitate the treatment of aged Americans for sicknesses they already have, however. The website lists twenty-six “free preventive services,” for children and only one for adults over the age of fifty. Although this provision reflects a disparity in needs for preventive, it also reveals a preference for the younger generations and a prejudice that posterity has a greater claim on the obligations of society than elders.
In an article in The Atlantic, Ezekiel Emmanuel, a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, claimed that “[Americans] are growing old, and our older years are not of high quality… Rather than saving more young people, we are stretching out old age.” The clear implication is that posterity deserves this preference because aged life is somehow lacking.
When we set the young against the aged as if the country should choose between them, we imbed inequality in the system. The concept of health care as mainly preventative in purpose favors policies that benefit one set of citizens at the expense of others. Such a ranking of citizens undermines the equality of all citizens before the law.
The violation of a basic principle of representative government like equality before the law qualifies as a major flaw in the idealism of the new healthcare law. People still believe that healthcare in America can and should be improved, however. Is the potential for better outcomes a reason to pursue the law in spite of its flaws?
The assumption of the Affordable Care Act is that when society does not produce the hoped for outcome in a case as essential as the health of citizens, the government must produce it instead. Chesterton expresses best the folly of such a principle, which “insists on treating the State…as a sort of desperate expedient in time of panic… [T]o hear people talk to-day one would fancy that every important human function must be organized and avenged by law…”
Chesterton would most likely agree with Lord Acton that, no matter the circumstances, “There are many things the government can’t do, many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others.”