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I was on Mark Thompson's Make It Plain XM Sirius show Wednesday night, and we'd been talking about what it was like, having to use the emergency room for medical care. So this guy from Alabama calls in with a question: "I have a small business, and I have to bust my hump to pay for medical insurance. People aren't entitled to medical care. Why should you get something for free when I have to work hard to pay for it?"
I don't know why (because it's not as if I don't know a lot of people agree with him), but I was taken aback. "So your position is that I should have just died."
"People aren't entitled to health care."
Then he went on to say that he'd recently been in the ER, "and everyone in there was on the dole."
I asked him how he knew that. I know that confidentiality rules are such that you're not sitting near anyone else when you register.
"I was sitting there talking to all of them, and they told me."
"So every single person in there told you they were on the dole?"
Mark made a comment that he doubted that, and hung up on the caller. But when I was done with my segment, I kept thinking about it. So things are so bad in this country that people begrudge emergency treatment to the sick? Now, he was calling from Alabama, and it is one of our poorest states. So I looked it up.
In 2010, Medicaid, Medicare and ALL Kids (Alabama’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP) covered 19 percent of Alabamians under age 65, including 45 percent of children under age 19 (Table 2-2).
With fewer avenues to qualify for Medicaid, adults under age 65 were much less likely than children to have public coverage, even at very low levels of income. In households below the federal poverty level, 25 percent of adults were covered by Medicaid or Medicare, compared with 82 percent of children.
These are really poor people, and yet he simply doesn't care. He works hard, why should they get something he has to pay for?
Because we pay for all kinds of things meant for the common good. I don't have kids in school anymore, but I don't begrudge money for public education. My parents are both dead, but I don't begrudge paying for the Medicaid your parents might need for a nursing home. My kids are healthy and strong, but I don't begrudge paying for the disability services that help people who aren't. It's the right thing to do.
We do these things because that's what civilized, decent people do. Because the way we treat our most vulnerable and needy says who we are as a nation. And because the caller was from Alabama, which is part of the Bible Belt, I thought of the story of the prodigal son:
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
This story isn't just about a jealous brother, it's about compassion. Compassion isn't something that's earned. If it has to be earned, it isn't compassion. It's reduced to a transaction.