George Pyle: Lies can be hazardous to other people’s health

First, an apology.

The other day a group of serious-minded men came in to see The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, of which I am a member and Keeper of the Calendar. They had asked very politely if they could drop by and explain to us their opposition to Proposition 3. That’s the Utah ballot question that, if passed, would finally put Utah into the column of states that have accepted the expansion of the Medicaid program to cover maybe 150,000 people who now lack that minimal feature of life in a civilized nation.

You can see by the content of that last sentence what they would be up against by coming to see us. They knew it, and so did I. But hearing them out was the least we could do. Except, looking back, I’m not sure I gave them even that.

I’m afraid they pushed one of my more sensitive buttons by saying, as supposedly intelligent people have been saying for a long time, that health care for the poor is always available. All they have to do is go to the nearest emergency room and, presto, free health care.

That’s a lie, and I said so. And I fear I may have gotten a little loud and bent out of shape in the process. I trust there were no Brett Kavanaugh faces. Thankfully, there were no cameras present.

I should have just held my tongue and let the presentation go on. We all knew that it was highly unlikely that anyone would leave the room thinking differently than they did when they came in.

But, gee willikers, Batman, what happens in an emergency room isn’t health care. And it is wrong to say it is. It’s trauma care. Gunshot wounds. Car wrecks. Really serious infections or frighteningly high fevers. Falling off of a motorized scooter. M*A*S*H unit meatball surgery

But health care? Chemotherapy? Kidney dialysis? Rehabilitation or occupational therapy? Pre-natal and well child visits? Long-term treatment for AIDS or opioid addiction or diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis? Nowhere to be found.

Apparently, we have an epidemic of lying about health care.

The first sentence in a Washington Post fact-checking article about the president’s recent statement about Medicare: “President Trump wrote an opinion article for USA Today on Oct. 10 regarding proposals to expand Medicare to all Americans — known as Medicare-for-All — in which almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.”

The last paragraph in the Sept. 27 column from New York Times columnist, and Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman: “So let’s be clear about this: If you or anyone you care about suffers from a pre-existing medical condition, Republicans are trying to take away your insurance. If they claim otherwise, they’re lying.”

Sadly, but not shockingly, the Republican effort Krugman describes, a multi-state lawsuit to gut what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, has the support of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Of course it does.

Setting these falsehoods aside, as hard as I found that to do, the arguments against Prop 3 boil down to money. And, damn straight, it’ll cost money. Maybe the $90 million a year that would be raised from the tiny hike in the state sales tax that is part of the initiative. Maybe more.

Maybe it will, as our visitors argued, require taking money from, say, education to balance the Medicaid books. Though our educational system would clearly benefit if everyone’s health care needs were met, if students and their parents were healthy and teachers and janitors and lunch ladies could see a doctor when they needed one.

The argument against Prop 3 is that civilization is a frill that we cannot afford.

And at least our visitors didn’t push another, even more sensitive, button. The one that looks at the thing where more people show up for Medicaid enrollment than were expected and calls it “The woodwork effect.” As in coming out of the woodwork. As in poor people are properly compared to roaches, mice and other vermin. Not to people who, indeed, need more health care than we may have thought.

People smarter than I can figure all this out if they want to. Canada and the whole of the European Union worked it out decades ago. People who aren’t lying, and aren’t bent out of shape about being lied to, can get on it. Imma going to go watch baseball for a couple of weeks.

And then vote for Prop 3.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial page editor, has not, as far as he can remember, been exposed to high doses of gamma radiation. gpyle@sltrib.com