“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
“The government that governs least governs best.”
“Would you want the group that runs the post office running the health care system?”
Amusing bon mots, to be sure. It’s always fun to pick on the Feds. But let’s take a closer look at that last one, shall we? As we debate President Obama’s initiative to provide health care coverage to the population of the United States for the first time in history, let us ask: Would we want a health care system built and delivered by the same institution that gave us the United States Postal System.
Not only “Yes,” but “Hell, Yes!” If we could build a health care system that only rose to a fraction of the efficiency of that hallowed institution, millions of Americans could rest easier knowing their livelihood, savings and retirement wouldn’t be wiped out by one illness or accident.
Originally created by the second Continental Congress way back in 1775, the USPS has been trucking mail across America as long as there have been Americans. At one point, the Postmaster General was in the line of succession for the Presidency! It’s hard to imagine the United States growing through the Industrial Revolution and the Silicon Renaissance without the most efficient postal system on the planet smoothing the way by delivering products, invoices, payments – and yes, even junk mail – in a timely and cost-effective manner. What other system do you know of that will come to your house, pick up a couple of pieces of paper, cart them thousands of miles and then hand-deliver them to your Aunt Rose? And all for less than a buck.
Sounds like a pretty good system to me. In fact, if you wanted to build an efficient Postal System from the ground up, it would probably look a lot like the one we have. On the other hand, if you built a health care system from the ground up, there’s no way you’d design what we have today. Is the USPS perfect? No. I had a discussion with my friend Julia Hoxie the other day and she commented on the fact that they get their mail mixed up all the time. Fair enough. The issue isn’t that the USPS sucks, it’s that it’s been so good for so long that we can’t tolerate errors.
So that brings us to an equally applicable rule: Just because something starts out working well, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrap it when it starts to fall apart. The USPS has come under attack from a much more efficient system: e-mail and e-commerce. Can it continue to function the way it has been? Perhaps not. And Postmaster General Jack Potter is already working to revamp the system (presumably he has the time since he doesn’t have to worry about that whole President thing.)
The same can be said for the current health care system. Back when American workers tended to spend their entire careers with one company, and that company provided the benefits, then the program worked. As long as health care costs remained within reach of those who preferred to provide their own savings, it worked. Now? Not so much. And it’s time to replace the system. They say the first step in fixing any problem is recognizing that you have one. We have to recognize that our current system is deeply flawed. All the naysayers out there that keep claiming we have the finest health care in the world are ignoring the fact that this vaunted system is not accessible to a huge number of our citizens. Saudi princes may fly over here to get their arthroscopic surgery, but Frank from South Oak Cliff can’t get a checkup and Mary from Grand Prairie has decided to forgo prenatal treatments because she can’t afford the medications.
So who’s going to fix such a large scale problem? It’s certainly not going to be that amorphous “Free Market” everyone is always talking about. Not on its own, at least. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, compared the free market to a new garden. Sure you could just throw some seeds in and then watch it grow (the ultimate metaphor for free markets). But your garden will produce a lot better tomatoes if you till the soil, plan your layout, set the stage properly and nurture it with fertilizer and water. Then, Mother Nature, and the free market, will take over and do the heavy lifting.
Face it, there’s not an organization out there that’s big enough to build a replacement for our health care system, except the federal government. That’s right, the same folks that took men to the moon, created the atomic bomb, and built the most efficient postal delivery system the planet has ever seen. So the answer is Yes. I don’t think I’d mind them building a new health care system. They are from the Government. And in this case, they CAN help.