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MARCUS: Is health care reform socialism?

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Morton Marcus

Mellow Marzipan is known in the hills of Owen County, near Spencer, as Aunt Mellie. She’s pushing 90, yet no one knows whose aunt she is.

She called a few days ago, all agitated.

“Sonny,” she said, “I want to be on one of those death panels. I’ve written to our senators and to Joe Biden (the president should be too busy to fuss with me), but no one has answered.”

“There are no death panels,” I said. “That’s just a lie made up to discredit the health care bill moving through Congress.”

“Well, there should be,” she said without being mollified. “Too many old folks just hanging around. I figure there should be panels made up of old folks who understand being old. They could put some juice into people who aren’t doing something and keep them going. And if folks won’t, then just let them go to the recycling center.”

“Now, Aunt Mellie,” I said, “we’re not going to have people making terminal judgments about the usefulness or productivity of other people. That’s not the way we do things in this country.”

“Well,” she said, “I never did see any use to spilling spoiled milk after the cow left the barn.”

“I don’t know what that means,” I said.

“Never you mind,” she said, “you’ll learn. Now, however, we need to get this health care thing done right. I say if a person can’t take care of herself or himself or whatever, we shouldn’t be paying for anything other than catroscopic illnesses.”

“It’s catastrophic,” I said.

“Those, too,” she added.

“Aunt Mellie,” I said, “I think that we need to see health care as we see fire protection. If your house is burning, the fire department doesn’t ask before they arrive, ‘Is it serious? Was your behavior in any way responsible for it? What’s your income? Are you insured?’ The time is coming when everyone will recognize that, as every structure in a city is entitled fire department services, so, too, each individual should receive appropriate health care, whether or not he or she can pay for it.”

“I never thought of the fire department as a form of socialism,” she said.

“Appropriate health care is not socialism and doesn’t have to be provided by government employees. We need to be those compassionate neighbors and responsible citizens you talk about so often,” I said. “In time, people will understand that we all contribute to support health care just as we all pay for the fire department. We never know when we or someone in our family will need those services and, if our neighbors have troubles, we don’t want their affliction to spread to our house.

“Now many people act as if they are immune from physical illness and immune also from economic distress. Seventy years ago, we recognized two aspects of economic need: losing a job and becoming unemployable. To assist these people, we established Social Security and unemployment compensation.”

“I wasn’t for those programs back then, but they seem to have worked all right,” Aunt Mellie said.

“Now we see medical wonders are not inexpensive,” I continued, “but medical bills can be crippling. So we are going to add health care payments to our economic toolbox because we know how devastating even short-term illness can be to a family’s income.”

“What about the death panels?” she asked.

“They don’t exist except in the minds of some very twisted people,” I said.

“Well,” she announced, “I’m not bothering with you any more today. I’ve got to find my Medicare card and catch that rural bus service that takes me to the doctor’s office.”•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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