Liberally Speaking (9/3/09)

Quality health care is a right

Sept. 3, 2009

By Steve Mount

If you’ve read more than one or two of these columns, you know that I’m a big fan of President Barack Obama. He represents the best that America has to offer, and I’m happy to see him occupying the big chair in the White House.

But I’m no sycophant. Obama and his crew are not above criticism. To paraphrase James Madison, if Obama was an angel, there would be no need for criticism. But he is not an angel, and as such, he is subject to error.

So it is with his handling of the health care debate of late.

Democrats had a long wait to get to where we are today. We hold the White House, we hold a strong majority in the House and we even hold a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In theory, we could do whatever we feel is best for the country.

The president, however, has waffled on too many points, allowing a strong stance to wither to a soft position on the issue. I agree with him that some reform of our current system is necessary. Using haberdashery as a metaphor, he said insurance reform is a belt and the public insurance option is a pair of suspenders — both will keep up your pants. Using his analogy, though, I say that if reform is the belt, the public option is the belt loops. If you don’t have the latter, the former won’t be effective.

The far-right lie machine is partially to blame for Obama’s shift. The president has been working so hard to squash the lies, there’s little time left to talk about the basic issues. But the lies keep coming: death panels, pulling the plug on grandma, taxing the middle class, rationing health care, socialized medicine and, most recently, “The Death Book.” If I didn’t know better, I’d be scared.

But I’m more scared of what will happen without a strong public insurance option, and part of this fear is for myself. What if I lose my insurance? I’m a Type 1 diabetic, completely reliant on insulin injected on a minute-by-minute basis to stay healthy and, indeed, alive. I am the definition of “pre-existing condition.”

I’ve been fortunate that I love my job and the people I work with, that I’ve made good choices with my career path and that I’ve had a bit of luck here and there. I hear horror stories about people like me who lose their jobs, or change a job willingly, or move to a new city, or even who graduate from college to the work force (and, thus, transition from their parents’ insurance plan to their own), and have to wait for benefits to kick in.

It is a simple concept: No one should have to live with the fear of losing their insurance.

Recently-departed Sen. Edward Kennedy was a champion of health care for all, and in the course of several television and radio obituaries last week, it was noted that one of his biggest frustrations over the past four decades was the lack of movement on universal health care coverage. Obama and the Democrats should honor Kennedy’s memory by renewing their efforts to push for a better plan.

Obama needs to use the power of the bully pulpit to bring Democratic leaders together and come up with a comprehensive plan for American’s health care future. The public health insurance option must be a part of that plan, as a safety net and as an alternative for business.

We must reform how insurance works in this country so that insurance companies are more concerned with patient outcomes than with profits.

We must spend money to find the most beneficial and cost-effective treatments for common conditions. We must work to prevent disease that is the result of lifestyle choices like smoking, overeating and inactivity. We must continue to develop new equipment, techniques and treatments that will help us or our loved ones.

We must leverage technology to contain costs and ensure the best care is cost-effective care.

I’ve wrestled with the notion of health care being a right vs. a privilege, but I’ve come to the conclusion that without good health, there is no point to having freedom of worship or speech or expression. Good health is a right — a basic human right — and our government should start acting like it is.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at