Humanizing health care

As Obamacare debate rages, don't lose sight of what's most important

Health care, we’re told constantly, is big business. It’s a sixth of the total economy. In Augusta, one of the Southeast’s biggest hubs of health care, it seems even bigger than that. And it’s growing all the time.

It can be one of a family’s or a business’ biggest expenses, too.

It’s a political football, being tossed about by our leaders in the halls of power like so many kids inside the house on a rainy day.

Health care is a legal argument, and in June will be a landmark ruling – one of the most anticipated, most consequential U.S. Supreme Court cases in history. And along the way, “Obamacare” has been and will be the focus of nonstop non-legal arguments by yakking heads on television.

Website Wikipedia defines health care simply, if clinically, as “the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans.”

It’s all these things, of course. But the business, financial, legal, political – and even clinical – aspects of health care too often cover over the real, vital essence of it.

At its considerable core, health care is simply about how long we will spend on this planet, and how comfortably or productively.

That not only humanizes it, but gives it more urgency than all the facts and figures you can toss into a political soup.

We recently had the privilege of meeting Penny, a radiologist at MCG Health System’s Breast Health Center. The name “Penny” is misleading. She’s worth millions. And so are most health-care providers – who regularly provide miracles. And when they’re not, they’re reducing or eliminating suffering; comforting the afflicted; and providing as much love and dignity as they can to someone wearing a backless gown while the invisible lawyers look on.

So, while we debate the politics and the finances and the legalities of health care, let’s not lose sight of the most important thing: health – and the availability of care. And let’s not forget the human element at its heart. Every second of every day in our hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, an indescribably intense, life-rocking drama takes place. People find out what’s wrong with them, or what’s right. They find out how amazing their health-care system really is – shocking, really, if all you know is the political and legal kerfuffles surrounding it.

Just another day at the office for those in the health-care system. There’s a reason health-care providers wear smocks. It’s the only way to stop from ruffling their wings.

Yet, our political foolishness threatens this most essential of humankind’s systems.

With the upheaval likely this June from the Supreme Court’s ruling on “Obamacare,” it’s essential our political leaders get their act together, as unlikely as that now seems. The federal health-care act appears, on its face, unconstitutional, and sure had all the signs of being in critical condition during oral arguments at the high court.

Folks in Washington need to plan ahead and ask, “What then?”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seems to be tilling the ground for his own bold proposal. But in general, Republicans have been out to lunch on this issue. Democrats seized it and claimed it. If Republicans don’t step up with concrete, practical solutions, they’ll just be seen as uncaring or worse.

Indeed, a Democratic bumper sticker already proclaims, “Obamacare beats the h--- out of I don’t care.”

Step one foot in a health-care facility, and there’s no way you can’t care.

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