Nine-one-one. What is the nature of your emergency?
I think my wife is having a heart attack. She’s in a lot of pain, clutching her chest. Can you send an ambulance? Now? Please? The address is ...
Certainly, sir. But first I need to verify your employment. Can you tell me where you work? Or if you are in a job training program?
What ... ?
It’s a new Utah requirement, sir. All beneficiaries of the health care system must show proof of employment or, alternatively, that they are in school or a training program. There are exceptions for the disabled and mentally ill. Are you eligible for those exemptions, sir?
What the ... ?
Well, sir, we certainly can’t just give away life-saving health care services without expecting you to have some skin in the game, now can we? It will cost the taxpayers money and the undeserving poor will catch a break.
What the f.... Never mind. She’s dead.
Sorry to hear that, sir. Have a good day.
But it is the ethical and moral basis of a law, passed by the Utah Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, that imposes a work requirement on those who would benefit from yet another attempt to grab some money from the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. Maybe a little of the more than $1 billion we’ve left on the table over the past several years.
The plan hasn’t yet been approved by the folks at the Department of Health and Human Services — who are perhaps distracted by the 2,000 asylum-seeking children they seem to have misplaced.
But an attempt by similarly minded politicians in Kentucky hit a snag late last month when a federal judge ruled that the work requirement that state wanted to weave into its Medicaid plan was not legal.
Not to worry, Utah state Rep. Robert Spendlove told The Tribune the other day. The Kentucky plan was different because it was an attempt to cover fewer people than now receive it in Kentucky. Utah’s plan, on the other hand, would expand the number of people covered.
Not nearly as many people as the original ACA would have reached, for less money. Or the number of households who would have benefited from Herbert’s Healthy Utah alternative, for less money. But more than are covered now.
Maybe. Different plans. Different judges. It could happen.
But in both cases the theory is that health care is a privilege to be limited based on the whim of whomever happens to be in power.
I will not attempt to convince anyone that health care is a “right” in the strict constitutional sense of free speech, free assembly, due process, privacy, stuff like that. But it is clearly one — two, actually — of the Four Freedoms enumerated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In early 1941, he ticked off the things that are necessary for a decent and civilized life. Things that would be worth fighting for if anything as drastic as, oh, a second world war ever happened. Heaven forbid.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
It’s not a constitutional amendment or a law or a regulation. But it’s a constellation to steer by. And in a faux civilization like ours, lacking access to health care denies you those last two freedoms.
To put a work requirement on access to health care is like putting a work requirement on a household’s access to public schools, to the police and fire department, to streets or sidewalks or sewers. It is deliberately cruel to the individual and causes harm to the rest of society.
Any man’s death diminishes me. Every person’s illness harms you. Not just morally, but also financially, as people miss work, miss school, lose jobs, become homeless, spread disease, etc., etc.
Real universal access to health care would be a boon to our society. People would have a much better chance to stay healthy as they start businesses, go back to school, write poetry, invent stuff, stay home to care for children or parents.
It would also be a real boost to the profession of journalism. Struggling news organizations would be relieved of the burden of providing insurance for their editors and reporters. Freelance journalists would have a much better chance of surviving on their own while they take on the corrupt and the powerful.
Which is why, unless the voters approve the Utah Decides Healthcare ballot question in November, it won’t happen.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, can recite the Four Freedoms, the Fantastic Four, bits of Henry V and the Seven Dwarves, but has forgotten the Jackson Five.