Just a month ago it was hard to find
reasonable people speaking up in opposition to what really is an
extraordinarily modest attempt by the Obama administration to change
how we pay for medical care. In its simplest form, the Obamacare plan
would introduce another player into the medical insurance market: the
federal government. Since government is already responsible for nearly
50 percent of our total expenditures for health care, the Obama version
of reform represents incremental change at best.
If you don’t believe me, ask the
proponents of a single-payer plan, like the ones who disrupted a town
hall meeting in Syracuse held by Rep. Dan Maffei last month. They
complain that the current legislative plan aims to save the health
insurance system, not radically reform it.
But not to the crazy-as-a-Fox crowd.
Over the past few weeks we have heard accusations that health care
reform is really socialism in disguise, and that it is an attempt to
turn us into a place they call Canada, which is not the place many of
us have visited to see the Blue Jays play in Toronto or to skate on the
canal in Ottawa. Instead, it is a miserable country apparently
populated exclusively by sad people waiting in long lines to have their
Most recently, we hear the accusation
from Sarah Palin, my newest friend on Facebook, that Obama would
institute “death panels” with the power to decide whether the old, weak
and infirm should be treated by doctors or referred to the nearest
mortician. Even Republicans of more sober reputation like Newt Gingrich
seem to have seized on this ghoulish theme as the way to drive the
dagger into the popular clamor for a better health-care system.
This idea of a panel of people who
decide whether you live or die is genuinely scary. In our current
system the death panel consists of someone at the other end of the line
on an 800 number: It’s the insurers who decide what care we can get.
There isn’t a word about death panels in the legislation, just an
offering of hospice care, which exists in most private insurance
The fact that the death panel is fiction
is no reason for the right wing to stop blaming Obama for wanting to
euthanize the elderly. They just keep telling the same story over and
over again, hoping that eventually enough people will believe it and
the hope for health care reform will be dead for yet another
generation. At this point it seems the Republican fringe needs the
death panels very badly. Without death panels they would have nothing
to talk about.
But crazier ideas have prevailed before.
Maybe we should give this death panel idea a second look. We might
actually look to our neighbor to the north for some help. I’m not
talking Canada; I’m thinking the Adirondacks. At the dawn of the 20th
century the cities of the Eastern Seaboard looked to the cold north as
a solution for one of the great health-care scourges of the age,
tuberculosis. If you travel up toward Saranac Lake you can still see
the expansive buildings that once were sanatoriums for the people whose
diseased lungs threatened the public health back in the days of Teddy
Sending folks to the North Country was
the best we had to offer back then for tubercular folk, young and old.
The medical warriors in the struggle against bacteria observed early on
that the fresh air of the Adirondacks seemed to clean out the unhealthy
lungs of some tuberculosis sufferers. TB was one of the forces that
drove the development of the region just south of Lake Placid.
If the public now demands a new health
care plan for our modern era, perhaps the Adirondacks could once again
lead the way. The elements of an affordable health plan are there. The
harshness of Adirondack life is in itself a healthy reform for a
sedentary, obese nation. People in the Adirondacks work hard and
exercise a lot. Climbing mountains and canoeing can be counted on to
enhance cardiovascular health. On top of that, really good food is hard
to find anywhere up there, so the temptation to obesity confronts a
natural limiting factor.
And if staying healthy doesn’t work,
there are always the death panels. Think of all those little islands in
the middle of those hundreds of lakes. If we must have death panels,
then let’s take a leadership role. Let’s offer our islands for the
medically condemned. The ribbon of islands dotting the necklace of
freshwater that traverses the Adirondacks would form an excellent final
resting place for those of us who have been denied health care and are
seeking consultation on, as the legislation puts it, “end-of-life
issues.” Your end-of-life counseling session would go something like
this: “Canoe or kayak?”
The death panel could meet every Friday
say, in Old Forge near the hardware store. The folks who don’t make the
cut will be given a map and a little boat and get dropped off along the
highway. They can paddle off in the general direction of Canada until
they bump into an island in Long Lake, or Raquette Lake. There they can
await the end knowing that they have done their best to reduce health
care spending, and enjoy the rustic scenery and fresh air while it
Remember, you heard it hear first. Back to you, Brit.
Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning Sanity Fair commentary appears weekly in the Syracuse New Times.