Two Simple Questions about Health Care

When Ross Douthat sucks his thumb over Roman Catholic theological controversies, my eyes glaze over. Aardvark ain’t got no dog in THAT fight.

Other days—and today, I think, was such a day—he’s worth a read. In a column headlined The Health Care Cul-de-Sac, Douthat urges both political parties to “step back and think about our national priorities”—and then, having thunk deep thoughts, to conclude that it is not a national priority to replace Obamacare, nor is it a national priority to enact a single payer health care system. He writes,

If Obamacare repeal is really dead for the year 2017, both left and right have a chance to shake their minds free of the health care debate and ask themselves: What are the biggest threats to the American Dream right now, to our unity and prosperity, our happiness and civic health?

I would suggest that there are two big answers, both of which played crucial roles in getting a carnival showman who promised to Make America Great Again elected president. First, an economic stagnation that we are only just now, eight years into an economic recovery, beginning to escape — a stagnation that has left median incomes roughly flat for almost a generation, encouraged populism on the left and right, and made every kind of polarization that much worse.

Second, a social crisis that the opioid epidemic has thrown into horrifying relief, but that was apparent in other indicators for a while — in the decline of marriage, rising suicide rates, an upward lurch in mortality for poorer whites, a historically low birthrate, a large-scale male abandonment of the work force, a dissolving trend in religious and civic life, a crisis of patriotism, belonging, trust.

Having laid this predicate, Douthat goes on,

Now a follow-up question: Is the best way to address either of these crises to spend the next five years constantly uprooting and replanting health insurance systems, and letting health care consume every hour of debate?

The First Question

We come now to Aardvark’s first question, and it goes to my progressive friends.

And the question is,

Doesn’t Douthat actually have a pretty good point about priorities?

The Second Question

Here comes the second question, and it’s for you, Mr. Douthat. Ross, like many of your ilk, you speak of single payer health care systems as though only an insane person could even entertain the idea. In today’s column, for example, you refer, and I quote, to “outlandish single-payer expectations,” and you speak condescendingly of “single-payer dreams.”

So here’s the question:

We have all heard of “American exceptionalism.” But what, in your humble opinion, makes America so bloody exceptional that it is a pipe dream to have efficient socialized medicine in America, when all other advanced capitalist countries have some form of single payer systems?

In short, what is it about us that means we Americans can’t have nice things?

Enquiring minds want to know.