Monday, March 15, 2010

Post 400 - For The People

This is my 400th post since starting this blog some three years ago. A lot has changed in that time.

When I began, I would have categorized myself as an extremely devout Mormon from a religious stand-point, and as a extreme right-wing Conservative from a political perspective. My plan was to blog about relationships and how they affect our lives and philosophical idea's I had whilst discussing the world with friends and colleagues.

As time went by, and as I delved deeper into my core beliefs and thoughts, I found that I started to stray from the Conservative path. I have become more and more liberal in my political beliefs and I think if I had to categorize myself now, it would be as a Libertarian Socialist (Say that three times fast!!). In addition those changes, my thoughts on religion have changed to. From a devout Mormon, employed by the Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, I started to question the motives behind the organization, and so began my departure from Mormonism. Technically, I'm still somewhat active, and to the average member nothing has changed, but inward, I left some time ago.

At this time I'm still struggling to put it all into perspective. While I feel anger at having been lied to for some many years, I also recognize that I wouldn't have met my sweet wife without the Churches influence, and that a great deal of who I am is because of that affiliation. I think I'm probably more of an Atheist now, more than anything else, but I suspect this is a path which still has a long way to go for me.

It's been an interesting 3 years and I'm sure the future still have plenty in store for me. While I have tried over the past year to keep this blog a little lighter than my other blog, occasionally I'll feel the urge to post something of a political and/or religious matter. Recently many of these posts have concerned the need to reform in some of our political systems, specifically health-care, and I felt the occasion of my 400th post would be a good time to delve into the underlying reasons for my support of such reform.

A recent discussion I had on this topic ended with a rather snarky comment by the other party that if their intent on following the founding fathers was offensive to me, it was simply unfortunate.

I'd like to start if I may, prior to the founding fathers, with what came before:

A religious organization is in many ways, similar to a commercial organization. While the product may be of a less tangible nature, typically the reason for forming the organization is the acquisition of capital from those who would follow the ideas and products of the organization.

If we consider England, the Church of England was the prevailing organization and enjoyed definite monopoly on religious thought amongst the populous. With the leader of the organization also serving as the leader of the country, anyone who was not a part of the organization was at a distinct disadvantage, and in some cases would be subject to punishment or death.

The founders of the United States appear to have been an interesting group. Many of the early settlers it appears where of the Puritan variety, seeking a place where they could practice their own religion, outside the control of the Church of England, and impose it on all in their community. There was another group though as well. Men who were generally of a secular disposition and who where great thinkers. It is from this group that many of the founding fathers seem to have been assembled.

When the Declaration of Independence was drafted, it held within it one of my favorite phrases of all time.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... Three ideals that speak to all people everywhere. When I think of the American dream, these are the things I think of. But I think in recent times, these ideals are in danger of being lost, and not because of Socialism, Marxism, Gun Control or anything like that. It is something which holds each of us as slaves, and ironically uses those slaves to defend it, and justify it's existence.

But let's take a little detour on the way to discussing this. In recent years, Mrs. Koda has remarked often that she would like to see a return to a simpler time, and specifically when we discuss the education of our children, she really likes the idea of the one room school house, where a small group of children of all ages would gather, and a teacher selected by the immediate community would teach each child at their own pace and according to their own abilities. While I have no doubt that our modern system offers many advantages over that approach, when I see my kids struggling with concepts and at other times, consumed with what amounts only to be busy work, I can definitely see the appeal.

It's made me think about the way things used to be, and I picture a small community, much as would have existed in the early days of the United States. I don't have the worlds greatest imagination, but I suspect the scene depicted in the "Little House on the Prairie" series to be a pretty accurate depiction.

I see a small community where everyone played an important part in keeping it running. You have the guy who runs the mill and might employ a few other gentleman in helping complete the work. The blacksmith, the school teacher, and the doctor. While each person no doubt pursued their talents, together they formed a community with shared talents and a common purpose. To support each other and help the community grow.

Let's look at the doctor for a second though, since I want to tie this into Health Care...

You have one doctor who is generally fairly well versed in medicine and does a great job taking care of everyone in town.

Let's say however, that he learns that the doctor in the next town over similar training but has a certain knack for setting bones and performing surgery, and let's say that our doctor has developed an affinity for treating skin conditions. These two doctors might form an agreement where they will spend perhaps one day a week in the others doctors town and help take care of things in which they have specialized. The doctors still get paid the same, but the benefit to the community is increased because you have a cooperative type arrangement between two people with different talents.

Take a few jumps up from that, and perhaps you could include a business which has invented an X-ray machine, or a bone scanner. You have another company which invents artificial limbs, and as the community grows, you have a cooperative which can now provide far better treatment for a variety of ailments and provides a huge increase in benefit to the local communities.

Jumping back to the original town however. I suspect that the single doctor probably wasn't insanely wealthy. As part of the community, he did his work, and they did theirs. Perhaps in exchange for caring for a young child with a broken leg, he might receive a portion of meat and/or vegetables, or some new furniture for his house. I suspect that everyone in town had fairly equitable income and all live a fairly similar standard of living.

Something has happened though, as this picture has grown. As men have formed cooperatives, they've also learned they can start to charge more for their specialist services. And in addition to charging more, a hierarchy has formed where somehow it seemed necessary that those at the top received a greater portion of the income.

There are definite benefits to have cooperative agreements setup between people of similar talents. We get the ability to accomplish more, and more innovation and improvement occurs, but there is a down side. Somewhere along the way, wages got out of wack.

A guy who spends all his time out in the hot sun, digging holes has been determined to not be as valuable to society as a lawyer who can speak well and win arguments. And as time moves on, that separation between the perceived value of both occupations only increases.

Now I know there are other factors involved here, like training and time dedicated to schooling, but from a time when a community all helped one another for mutual survival, it seems like now we have been formed into corporations where those on top take more than their fair share, at the expense of those in lesser valued professions or even those lower in the hierarchy.

Just as England was take over by a corporation, specifically the Church of England, so the United States has been taken over by corporations. The idea of the individual has been lost, and as evidenced by the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that corporations should be considered as independent entities, we're getting dangerously close to where they were.

Back to the topic at hand though... At one time, health care was within reach of all citizens within the US. It wasn't too expensive and it was light years short of what we have now, but the growth of that industry has far exceeded that of other industries. The health care industry has gotten to be great, because of the contributions of individuals, and because of the individuals they service.

It seems to me that each American has played a part in helping that industry and others grow, and as such, we have claim to it's services.

This country was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and isn't a part of that being able to have access to quality medical care?

The US Government was formed to be Of the People, For the People and By the People. It was never intended to Of Corporations, For Corporations and By Corporations. In fact I think it fairly obvious that the Declaration of Independence was designed to escape those sorts of things.

I'm afraid my thoughts are probably a little disjointed about about to tie this all together, but let me try....

In the situation where a few have determined that their work is worth more than that of the rest of us, there needs to be a mediator that brings things back together again, and that is why we have a government, to represent to needs of all.

The free market works really well, when you consider electronics and consumer goods, but Health Care isn't a consumer good. It's a service which is based on need, not on want, and therefore the free market simply can't work on it. In many ways, it suffers from the same problem which those who face discrimination based on race or gender suffer. Those who need it the most generally did not make the choice to need it.

I've heard the argument that if health care is freely available to all, that it will get over-used, but such is the problem with thinking from a free market perspective. People want to be well, and while I am sure there are a few hypochondriacs who would abuse such as system, but I for one am not looking forward to my next prostate exam or round of chemotherapy. But should the time come that I need it, I would appreciate it being there, and having access to it at a reasonable price.


  1. In your small town scenario I, with my broken arm, could have it set by the town vet (if I trusted him or her) or any other person of my choosing. Now the government has given the AMA control over who can become a doctor (which they limit the supply to drive up the prices) and the government will prosecute those that practice medicine (or law or hairstyling, etc) without a license.

    The government also fixed wages at one time, but allowed companies to claim a tax break for providing health benefits. This has grown into the horrible third party insurance nightmare we have today. Why not a straight paycheck and let employees buy whatever level of insurance (or not) with which they are comfortable?

    Finally and most importantly is the argument from morality. It is immoral to steal from one group of people and give it to another group of people. If I tried to steal to help the sick I would be thrown in prison. If I don't have this right to steal, from hence does government get the right to steal?

  2. DBD, appreciate the comment!

    If the AMA is indeed limiting the supply of doctors, then perhaps that would be a good place to start. And I think you raise another point here... If they are doing this to raise the price, that's precisely the problem I was getting at. When you focus on profits, the patient gets screwed.

    I like the idea of a straight paycheck as well. Seems a lot fairer to me too. But I would like to see a provision where people can sign up for a group plan, and where that plan doesn't discriminate based on pre-existing conditions. I can understand why auto insurance companies would increase the premium for a bad driver, but with medical issues, often the problems are out of the hands of the patient. Tripling your premium because you get cancer, just seems to be opportunistic on the part of the insurance company, and goes back to the whole problem of profit vs. care.

    I'm with you on the stealing and morality comment, however... Does it seem right to you that a person who works his butt off these days can barely get by if he's lucky, while a CEO can run a business into the ground, get the business bailed out by the government, and then still receive millions in bonuses?!?

    I think it's wrong to take from one group to give to another, but at the same time, we can't all be doctors. Those of us who work generally work hard and play a vital part in advancing our communities and civilization as a whole, it would just seem right that we are all fairly compensated for the work we do.

    That said however, I don't know what the answer is. Invariably, when government gets involved in matters like this, corruption also gets involved as well. I'm just saying I think something is seriously screwed up with the direction our civilization is headed!

    I'm actually toying with the idea of doing a post on my experiences with the health care industry over the last month... They haven't been bad, but I think they demonstrate the problem we face as a species. It also means opening up details of my financial dealings to the world, and so I need to weigh up the pro's and con's of doing so...

  3. I agree with you about the problem with CEO getting big bucks and running the company into the ground, but I believe that could mostly be solved with removing the government granted immunity (i.e., LLC) to companies. Only under the government can a company be considered a 'person'.

    I've got to take issue with you (and it seems a lot of others) who think it is wrong, bad, evil, to exclude 'pre-existing' from the insurance pool. Suppose you and I (and another 98 healthy individuals) each pony up $1000 for a cancer pool (first person to get cancer gets the $100K pot). Does it make sense to allow a person with pre-existing cancer to join this pool? But cancer pool is exactly how all INSURANCE should operate.

    Yes, it is a bitch if, through no fault of one's own, a catastrophe happens, but we should not use the force of government to take from those who voluntarily associated with each other through health insurance (in this case a cancer pool) and give it to the unfortunate.

    Charity must be voluntary.

  4. The pre-existing conditions is a tricky one. I would agree with you, that having someone join the pool only when they get cancer is unfair and wrong.

    In my case, I wanted to be part of an insurance pool, and applied. I was denied coverage however, because of a test which had been done on a family member a few years before and which turned out to be negative. As it turned out... 1 month later, a freak accident occurred and I pretty much lost my business and my entire nest egg to cover it. It worked out for the best, but 5 years later, we're still feeling the effect. And we were extremely fortunate that while it wiped us out financially, we did have the resources at the time. In hind site. Had we been accepted to the pool, the experience would have been far better for us, and in the years since, the pool would have received greater input from us, than we would have drawn at the time.

    I think there are two schools of thought on health-care. I think it's the key issue on which everyone disagrees, but I don't think they realize it is - and so they'll probably never reach agreement.

    One side sees health-care as a right, and part of living in America.

    The other sees health-care as a service which you can opt in for, or decline.

    From the perspective of the second approach, I think your points and those of most people currently opposing health care reform make perfect sense.

    And I would add that I'm not saying that perspective is necessarily wrong, as there are definite advantages to looking at the problem from that direction.

    Personally I feel that healthcare has become more... Well, not so much a right as in a benefit which living here provides. I see it as something similar to our national highway system. I may not use all the highways, but my taxes have contributed to them, and they're there when I need them. For me to build a road myself would be cost prohibitive, but by pooling resources and having construction orchestrated by the government, I think we could all agree that it's a benefit to all.

    I whole-heartedly agree with your idea of the cancer pool. My change would be, allowing as many people into the pool as possible. More people normalizes the risk and could likely achieve more good.

    I'm also in favor of multiple pools. Since some may have access that others don't. Switching between the pools is where the pre-existing conditions being eliminated makes sense to me.

    I think everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of the pool, and most of me would agree with your that it shouldn't be coersed.

    The problem is when someone who isn't a part of the pool suffers a catastrophe, then you have the issue of do we just let them die, or do we do the humane thing and help them out. It's humane, but it's unfair to everyone who's been contributing all along. And for those reasons I favor some sort of plan where everyone is part of the pool, to one extent or another.

    In all honesty, with very few exceptions, I think everyone would like to be a part of the pool. The problem is that the owners of the pool currently, are only letting those people in who are going to make them money, and restricting access to those who might have a higher chance of needing to use the pool, and making it almost impossible for those who need to use the pool due to circumstance beyond their control, to continue to do so.

  5. I would guess that most people (following their self-interest) would want to join the best pool that they barely qualify for (and would most likely end up as the beneficiary).

    I stand firmly in the camp that there are only "negative" rights. One has a right to life (no one should take it away), but not a right to live (which implies someone else must provide the resources). Rights are unalienable (the government can abuse them, but can't provide or take them away). Privileges are granted by others (and can be taken away if they don't like you). Health care IMO matches the privilege definition.

    If health care is a right, why isn't food and housing also a right? What is the difference between forcing some to provide health care (vs. food/housing) to others?

  6. I think I'm with you on most of that...

    I used to be very against welfare type systems in any form, because they do end up subject to a great deal of abuse. I did a post a couple of years back that I'm sill taking heat from.

    There will always be those who will have no problem providing for themselves, due to circumstance and experience.

    There will also always be those who you could likely consider the leeches of society, who live on the hard work of others. Unfortunately, I think when welfare is discussed they're kind of the poster children for it.

    There's another group though. People who really want to provide for themselves. People who work their butts off everyday, but due to circumstance and perhaps just plain bad luck, they're not well enough off to afford things like insurance, but they're also definitely not the type who are going to live off handouts. People who've been laid off, people who's income potential just isn't that high, and people like single mom's who are torn between raising kids and providing for them.

    I think those are the people whom the health care reform is aimed at. Not those of us that can afford it, and not those who want to mooch off the system.

  7. I think I really need to hear more stories about your time in employ of the Church and why or what you saw soured you...

  8. T.J. I'll see if I can share some of my experiences in future posts.

    Unfortunately the vast majority of the experiences are things I'm not sure if I can share.

    Those that I can however aren't necessarily bad. The entire experience was similar to many other places a person might work. It was basically just an organization which appeared to be setup to enrich the owners and employees where merely assets to be used in that mission. The hard thing with Church employment was being constantly told you were working to fulfill the mission of a Heavenly Father, but being treated like complete shit in the process.

    Church HR is without a doubt one of the most evil and corrupt entities I have ever had the misfortune of having to deal with.