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News » Private Eye

Catch 22 Health Care

Americans think it’s more noble to die without health care than live with the government.



For her own reasons, my wife pays no attention to me whatsoever except on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, my wife gets all girlie and curious. No sooner does she awake than she starts cuddling and asks what I’m going to write about. She will do almost anything to find out, and I admit to being just a tad Pavlovian about it come Monday night.

Without boring you with the play-by-play details, this Tuesday began like many others. But as she was leaving for work, instead of asking, “What are you going to write about today?” she said, “Why don’t you write about the elections in Greece?” Mind you, it’s a small nuance going from question to suggestion, but it struck me as important. Was she my new muse? I’ve been without one for a couple of years now, so that would be a good thing. Was it something I did? That would be a better thing, so I made mental note to do it again in seven days—whatever it was. Instead of going crazy figuring it out, I just took it as an omen.

I’ve never met a good omen, only bad ones. So, I’m doing the wise thing and writing down everything I know about the elections in Greece, which isn’t much. Here it is: Greece had socialized medicine before electing their new socialist government. That’s all I know. Meanwhile, our leaders and insurance companies teach Americans to fear socialized medicine.

In Greece you can take care of your ulcer for under a hundred euros—not counting the bribe to the doctor and nurse (who are both smoking in the hospital somewhere). Even with the bribe (there isn’t always a bribe and it’s not called that; it’s just a quaint tradition called fakelaki), it’s a less costly treatment than here. That’s the way it should be. Health care shouldn’t be only for those who can afford it. You shouldn’t lose your house just because you get sick. You should not fear going to the emergency room because you don’t have insurance. But, many Americans do just that and, for some dumb reason, take pride in it.

A few weeks ago, everyone was enraged about Death Panels. Sarah Palin jump-started the lie that when you get old and sick, some kind of jury would decide if you live or die. You remember Sarah Palin, don’t you? Recent V.P. candidate. Matriarch of a dysfunctional family. Former Alaska governor. Nitwit. For some reason, certain Americans think Sarah Palin is coherent. Her unsubstantiated lie was passed along by cohorts, partisans and enablers, and it scared the bejezus out of people. The episode became its own Death Panel, effectively killing the Democrat health plan. America: Sarah Palin. Greece: Hippocrates. You choose.

You have it backwards. It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.

Naturally, no one looked at reality, which is, why worry about a death panel if you can’t afford to get into the hospital to die in the first place? Everyone who spread Palin’s lie is guilty of death by omission. The same people who don’t want the “government controlling how you die” (their point of view) make up nearly the same group that has no problem with “insurance companies controlling how you live” (my point of view).

For reasons I can’t fathom—too much sugar? too much TV? too much Elvis?—a frightening number of Americans think it’s more noble to die without health care than to with live with government (read: socialist) health care. Yossarian would disagree.

In the novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s protagonist, Yossarian, becomes increasingly aware that the only way out of war was to die in it. The rules for survival continually change, and Yossarian famously states he wants to live forever or die trying in the attempt. Meanwhile, another of Catch-22’s characters has this conversation with an old Italian man shortly after the United States liberated Italy:

Captain Nately: Don’t you have any principles?

Old man in whorehouse: Of course not!

Nately: No morality?

Old man: I’m a very moral man, and Italy is a very moral country. That’s why we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.

Nately: You talk like a madman.

Old man: But I live like a sane one. I was a fascist when Mussolini was on top. Now that he has been deposed, I am anti-fascist. When the Germans were here, I was fanatically pro-German. Now, I’m fanatically pro-American. You’ll find no more loyal partisan in all of Italy than myself.

Nately: You’re a shameful opportunist! What you don’t understand is that it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

Old man: You have it backwards. It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees. I know.

Nately: How do you know?

Old man: Because I am 107 years old. How old are you?

Nately: I’ll be 20 in January.

Old man: If you live.

And there you have it. Greece—and Italy—both have socialized health care. Both countries have a lower infant mortality rate than the United States and a higher life expectancy. Citizens pay their “tax” to the state or to doctors, not to insurance companies that charge increasingly higher fees while providing less health protection. In both countries, the citizens remember how to live and don’t concern themselves with when to die. It’s the living that matters. And the Tuesday mornings.

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