Commentary: Health care, on the rocks

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – As Republicans in the U.S. Senate lurch toward another destabilizing and self-destructive vote on health care, I find myself recalling a conversation with a couple of guys over drinks.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

One was Canadian. The other was English.

It was back in the spring. We all were in Bermuda, on vacation with our families. We hadn’t met before and we haven’t stayed in touch since, but the hotel where we all stayed was the kind of place where people gathered on the wide white front porch as dusk approached to sip, share stories and watch the night approach.

While the Brit and the Canadian each nursed a dark and stormy – rum and ginger beer – I savored a single-malt Scotch on the rocks. We introduced ourselves and, as the conversation flowed, told each other what we did for a living.

They each owned their own businesses. When they learned I was a journalist, the Canadian looked over and said:

“Maybe you can solve something for me. There are two things about you Americans the rest of us just don’t get.”

He paused. The Brit looked on, waiting.

“The first is guns. Why can’t you Americans get that under control the way the rest of the world has?” the Canadian businessman said, then continued, “And why do you people insist on tearing each other apart over healthcare?”

The Brit chuckled, nodded his head and took another sip of his drink.

The first question – about guns – I dispensed with in a hurry. I told them there were reasons the United States didn’t deal with gun violence in any real way, but those reasons only made sense to the National Rifle Association and the politicians who are either in the pocket of or terrified by the gun lobby.

Healthcare, I said, was a different matter. Rather than share my thoughts, I told them, I wanted to hear theirs.

We each took another sip, then they began to talk.

Each said he was a conservative. The Canadian said he had supported Stephen Harper, the Conservative former prime minister of our northern neighbor. The Brit laughed and said he kept hoping that Margaret Thatcher would come back to life.

But they both said they supported government-funded health care – and not for the reasons I expected. They argued that, rather than serving as a burden for business, public health care lightened the load.

The Brit, who ran a small business in the service industry, said having the state provide health care made his recruiting and hiring decisions easier.

“I don’t need to negotiate or even worry about benefits when I’m trying to hire someone,” he said. “All we have to work out is what I’m going to pay them and what I expect in return for that pay.”

He took another sip of his drink and grinned.

“It just makes things so much simpler when you’re running a business if you don’t have to worry about that stuff,” he concluded.

The Canadian picked up on that point.

His company, he said, was larger. If he were in the United States, he said, he’d have to have at least one employee and maybe several who had to focus on the complexities of securing and administering healthcare options for the people who worked.

But, because of Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system, he argued, his company could free up labor to perform more lucrative tasks.

“Not having to worry about taking care of healthcare means we can spend more time doing the work we get paid for,” he said.

I said that certainly wasn’t the way conservatives thought in the United States.

The Canadian chuckled.

“I told you there were some things we just don’t understand about you,” he said. “You seem to insist on making things more complicated than they need to be.”

I lifted my drink in his direction and said “touché.”

We all enjoyed a small laugh.

Now, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate prepare to inject still more uncertainty into an already unstable healthcare market, I find myself thinking a lot about those two guys and that conversation.

They had a point.

It does seem like we Americans are making this a lot harder than it needs to be.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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