Survival of the Insurable: Universal Access to Health Care & Natural Selection

04/02/2012 09:36 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2012

A lot has been said about the legal future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court may be supreme, but a few laws, namely those of nature and evolution, are outside its jurisdiction. Nature's own precedents hint at how universal access to health care is helpful to America. In this political heat we shouldn't forget the evolutionarily adverse implications of overturning such access.

For millions of years animals and man have evolved to find great value in living in groups -- pooling resources, ideas and individual effort. Fish swim in formations to scare predators. Birds fly together for aerodynamic efficiency. Penguins incubate in groups to last in the Antarctic tundra. Hordes of ants collect food with military selflessness. There is even a grammatical construct called the collective noun inspired by this sort of evident camaraderie.

Of course man is no stranger to collective social organization. In fact, our species has evolved social organization to the most complex level known in the history of this planet as illustrated by cross-continental supply chains and trade, representative governments, and internet-based social networks. A lot of our success was due to our organizing into villages and tribes, then city states, then nations, and now, increasingly, a common global fabric.

In this context, we should realize that while America may be founded on the principles of individualism and freedom, it is still a country in nature's kingdom and subject to nature's laws. Consider these cases: Nature v. Primates and Nature v. Cetacea. Among other factors, social evolution has greatly helped the survival of species in these two biological orders. People on the right are often on the wrong side of evolution, but even they admit that many species around the planet derive benefits from organizing in groups.

In America's health services market today, about a sixth of the population is completely locked out because of pre-existing conditions, chronic medical ailments, immigration status, lack of employment or poverty. It is as if a combination of socio-economic and genetic circumstances has caused a pride of lions to banish a sixth of its population from the privileges of this bigger group. It is true that nature is unforgiving and that animals leave their weakest behind and move on. But neither nature nor animals are unforgiving to a sixth of the population. In evolutionary terms, survival of the fittest has been artificially replaced by survival of the insurable. This is absurd.

If we overturn universal access to health care, the costs to America and humanity would be immense: we would diminish the talents and contribution-potential of a sixth of our population (about 50 million people) over a legal squabble involving esoteric interpretations of near-ancient judgments, precedents, and laws. Being a dinosaur used to be a great gig, until it wasn't. Too much rigidity in our laws can have much the same effect on our future.

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