Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I want to hear from the president

Today I'm supposed to be on a "conference call" on health care reform with the President - and tens of thousands of other people. I have opinions on many of the details of health care reform, of course, having worked in that field for many years. The current state of the debate makes me inexpressibly depressed. But here's what I yearn to hear.

"More than sixty years ago, Americans decided that people have the right, after 50 years of labor, to lay down our work; and to do so with dignity and some measure of security. In making that commitment to ourselves and each other, we lessened the human suffering and nagging fears that haunted our forebears: the fear of ending our days in destitution; the prospect of unending labor beyond the time when bodies can endure it; the economic need for women to bear as many children as possible to ensure caretakers during old age.

"And thus, we created the concept of retirement. Certainly the systems we established along with it are not perfect; they must be adapted as times change, and are on shaky ground right now, requiring our attention. Moreover the promise of retirement does not absolve us from the duty to contribute our own part to that security, to save and plan and take responsibility for our circumstances. But the underlying promise, that of the right to lay down one's burden in old age with dignity and peace of mind, is now enshrined in our culture, and we are better for it.

"We have before us the opportunity to make a similar leap, a collective covenant of equally momentous import. We can create a life for our children and grandchildren that is free of many of the fears that haunt us: fear that our illnesses and injuries will go untreated; knowledge that we live ever on the edge disaster, should our health coverage disappear due to unemployment, illness, divorce, widowhood; dread of the next unexpected jump in our health care premiums, and the associated painful financial choices; terror that we will be bankrupted and become a burden to our families simply because we got sick.

"We have the opportunity to create the concept of health care as a right - not without our own responsibilities and duties, to share the cost, to care for our bodies, to plan for our future and take responsibility for our circumstances. But a right nonetheless, and one enjoyed already by people around the world. We can walk away from the fear and instead embrace the idea that people should be cared for when they require it, with dignity and some measure of security. We, and the generations that follow us, will be better for it."

Why isn't this what the debate is about?

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