I have a brother I have never met. He died as a toddler a few years before I was born, from a heart defect commonly referred to as a “hole in the heart.” In the late 1960s there wasn’t much that could be done for these unfortunate children. But Kent was given loving and compassionate care at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City up until his death which left behind two exhausted and grief-stricken parents, along with my older siblings. The sad tragedy altered the course of our family in a number of ways, good and bad.
This week I’ve watched the debate over health care change texture after a tearful and emotional monologue from late night television host Jimmy Kimmel. He told the powerful story of how his own little baby, Billy, was born with a defect very similar to what took my older brother’s young life. At just three hours old, the baby was surrounded by concerned doctors scrambling to save his life. Long story short, they did save him, thankfully. He’s a super cute baby.
While I couldn’t relate experientially to Kimmel’s family ordeal, I could relate emotionally. It was a reminder of how powerfully we are connected to our own children, and desire the brightest future possible for them.
Many have responded to Kimmel’s monologue, gently pointing out that Billy was saved at a charity hospital that would have provided the same care, regardless of insurance status, and that newborn babies are not dying in America because of a lack of insurance coverage. Hospitals in America are not turning dying children away because their parents can’t pay. And nobody in either party is proposing anything that will knowingly deny sick babies, due to insurance status, the health care they need for a healthy start in life.
I don’t fault Jimmy Kimmel. He said what was in his heart at the time after a highly emotional and serious health situation. Being a dad myself, with tender feelings for my own children, I can relate. Sympathy dictates that we give space to those who go through such an experience to be emotional and express feelings that are understandable, even feelings that are not necessarily illustrative of current overall public health challenges.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, amid a haze of raw emotion, many gun restriction proposals were pushed forward. Ironically, most — if not all — of the serious gun restriction proposals would have done nothing to prevent an identical tragedy in the future.
Why the disconnect? Why the use of anecdotal and emotionally-charged situations to address highly complicated and nuanced public policy challenges? It is impossible to derive a rational wide scale solution from an isolated emotional event. Yet, that’s what we do all of the time. If anyone emotes themselves to a rational solution, it is by accident.
Billy Kimmel is alive today more because of world-class technology and care that developed in a competitive but charitable system — and less because of Obamacare policies and NIH funding. Yet, the world applauds the sentiment that one political outcome or another would have fixed everything — that one side has a solution that will save the world, and the other side’s will destroy it. The polarized discourse, amplified by the media, has programmed us to see only two polar outcomes.
In truth, we often have to pick our poison. If we want to bar insurance companies from limiting coverage for any pre-existing conditions, we will have sky high premiums. If we want to have affordable insurance premiums for an insurance policy average families can actually use, then we have to think differently. It’s too easy to simply say Republicans want to deny health care to poor babies. It may feel good, but it is a lie.
One sick baby cannot dictate health care policy in America, and one shooting tragedy cannot determine laws limiting our Constitutional rights. When we’re grown up enough to use rational thought to arrive at rational conclusions, we’re getting somewhere.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 590am, 106.3 and 92.1fm, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.