Monday, September 07, 2009

Healthy Debate

Missing amidst the uproar on health care reform at the town meetings and the bug-eyed hysteria encouraged by our media is the link between our health care system and public health. Death panels, pulling the plug on our loved ones, socialism, deficits (mostly ignored during the war of choice), and even some cogent arguments that don’t embarrass us in the eyes of the world have been rung through the wringer that is called our media. It’s all as clear as mud, but politically the issues over health care reform are clear: defeating the present party on this ‘hot’ button issue offers new life to a party in search of a victory—any victory.

As decision time nears Obama, speaking soon to a joint session of Congress (bottom of the ninth, the last lap, third down and goal to go, whatever) every morbid rock has been overturned except one strangely illuminating environmental health fact: Regardless of how healthy various pockets in your population are (say, those with great health coverage) those weak links, those without the means to prevent diseases early or build up their immune systems when weak can be your conduit to a raging pandemic.

In other words, if some one close to you is--physically close like your neighbor, the one seated to you on a bench, walking by you on the street, next to you at a public meeting, seated next to you at a movie, waiting in line at a store, or a friend of a friend who has come in contact with someone with no health coverage—is vulnerable then you’re connected to the pandemic too. During this health coverage debate, during a possible resurgence in strength of the present flu pandemic, little has been made of the consequences to you who have adequate health coverage of the millions of your unfortunate neighbors who don’t.

Washing your hands, yelling at your senator or congress person, securing and plugging the holes in your own health policy, isn’t going to stop the flu virus from getting to you. When a disease passes from human to human we are all as vulnerable as the weakest link in the chain. Our public health has been compromised by a rapacious and selfish health care system that puts us all at risk.

Never mind health care costs, who’s going to win the next election, whether the president will hit one out of the park next week, or whether the government is going to squeeze its incompetent self between you or your favorite doctor. If a large part of your population is riddled with inadequate health care whose only recourse is the emergence ward when they collapse, someone in the great chain of being is going to pass a fast-spreading disease like the swine flu to you.

Even if you don’t care about those people who lose their health care or didn’t bother to get a job and get a great policy like yours, you aren’t safe. The weakest link in a pandemic provides the quickest route to you. A pandemic, like any other health problem, follows the path of least resistance. That person next to you without adequate health care is your brother.

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