Ron Paul and I are from the same generation and we are both doctors. That appears all we share. Listening to Ron Paul talk about the good old days before Medicare, you would think seniors were well cared for by churches, charities and kind doctors like him. Sure, he just finished commenting that people with health insurance should suffer the consequences. But, to soften what could have been seen as a cold-hearted statement, he said that people got care in the good old days -- from churches. His memory is as bad as his judgment -- and a doctor without good judgment is dangerous.
Before Medicare and Medicaid, churches did not fill that need. I would go with my church group caroling at Christmas to the county hospital in upscale, religious and economically successful San Diego and would see room after room of about 30 people per room of old people put in beds at 7 pm, some sleeping, some writhing, and some talking to themselves, with a stench of fecal matter, vomit and age. I am sure Dr. Paul did not see these scenes and continues to live the bliss of ignorance. After Medicare and Medicaid, these scenes disappeared and our older neighbors have been treated with respect and have dignity as they get older.
But grant Dr. Paul ignorance and the other candidates in that forum extreme timidity for not commenting. Can we get rid of programs like Medicare and Medicaid and truly be better off? Can our religious and other voluntary organizations ensure that we are all treated with respect and dignity in our old age or when we are sick? Or are his statements those of a dangerous ideologue?
So, can and would churches care for everyone who fell through the cracks now -- like Ron Paul's own campaign manager who had the bad fortune to have a pre-existing condition and, therefore, was unable to buy affordable insurance. He had to raise $400,000 to cover the cost of his care
I asked James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, whether his 33,000 congregations could step up and fill that gap. His reply? "A great many of these churches struggle simply to pay the health care premiums of the pastor. It is inconceivable that local churches in the United States could possibly cover the medical expenses of the uninsured. They do not do so now and could not do so if the Medicare program were terminated."
His answer is a strong -- no. This is not possible and it truly is bad medicine to turn back the clock and wait until people are sick to care for them -- missing the preventive care we all need to keep our families healthy and secure. America shines when we work to solve problems together. As Paul Begala recently wrote, the founding fathers talked about E Pluribus Unum -- from many one -- not Canis Canem Edit -- dog eat dog.
Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and other candidates for the position of 'Leader of the Free World' do need to make hard decisions, but from a position of reality and compassion -- and not from fantasy.