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Slavery and the Health Care Crisis

The gravity of America’s health care crisis is the moral equivalent of the 19th Century’s bloody conflict over slavery. This is not hyperbole, though the truth of it is often lost in abstract talk of insurance company profits, treatment costs, and other cold, inhuman analyses.

Today’s health system condemns 50 million Americans to ill health and death while guaranteeing health care to the economic privileged. It cannot stand.

About 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance.  That’s more than a third the number of lives lost in battle during each year of the four-year Civil War.

Members of Congress without the moral clarity to recognize this equivalence will be condemned by history. Their spinelessness and lack of will when confronted with the power of the insurance industry is just as morally bankrupt as the American congressmen who bowed to Southern slave-owners.

The morally compromising efforts to pass health care reform that insurance companies might like is as insane as the compromises over slavery. Those compromises — the First and Second Missouri Compromises of 1820, their repeal by the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, and the notorious Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 led to the War Between the States.

War is what happens when morality is sacrificed to political expediency. The stupid compromises over slavery ducked the fundamental moral question at hand. The compromises were doomed to fail, as all such moral cowardice ultimately fails. That’s no original thought. It’s a central message of authentic Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. In fact, those traditions only bought blood and trouble for themselves when they forgot this fundamental teaching about moral courage.

The ugly consequences of the Missouri Compromise, which tried to balance the power of slave and non-slave states, are still with us. How different it would be if the Framers had banned slavery, or if moral courage had been in greater supply in our nations first few, fragile decades.

The political protectors of insurance industry profits aren’t short of words.  But every utterance from Washington like "we don’t have the votes for a public option" is so cowardly and disgusting that the stomach turns. Imagine a husband impotently watching a brutal assault on his wife. "Honey, I would have protected you but I just wasn’t sufficiently armed." That’s what the excuses from Congress sound like.

America has the economic ability to save 18,000 lives each year and end the suffering of millions of more who struggle with illness and disease. The only reason we don’t do it is that insurance companies haven’t yet figured out how to do it at a profit.

The health insurance industry earns its profits from the denial of coverage and benefits. It’s not so different from the Southern plantation owners who earned their profit from slave labor. The latter had their economic justifications for their immorality. So do the insurance companies.

False arguments about "government-run" health care ignore the fact that the current system is run by unaccountable insurance company bureaucrats. Hollow arguments about the cost of saving 18,000 lives a year are morally twisted, too. There’s no reason for these premature deaths except the protection of insurance company profits.

That makes it blood money, some of which makes it back into the campaign coffers of politicians who protect their insurance industry masters.

Disease and death are unavoidable, of course. But we are talking about unnecessary, premature deaths. In other words, people are dying because our political leaders are afraid of the insurance industry.

Condemning Americans to premature death and ill health so some can earn profits is the moral equivalent of slavery. Some may find the comparison extreme, others distasteful. But history will record it as a fact.

And members of Congress who ignore that fact can be certain that their descendants will be haunted by their blindness and cowardice.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith