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Health Care? Watch Your Language!


Be careful of your thoughts, because your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your
words, for your words become your actions.

From Be Careful (author unknown)

David Goldhill writing in The Atlantic this fall points out a key semantic problem with the current debate about health care in the US.  Too often, politicians and commentators refer to the millions of Americans without health care,” but what theses speakers really meant was that these millions are “without health insurance.”  Health care has somehow become synonymous with heath insurance. This semantic confusion is leading us to act in ways that limit our choices in how to “fix” health care in this country.

Unlike other forms of insurance, we have arrived at a point where we seem to think and act as if health insurance is supposed to cover almost every health-care expense, big or small.  We can see the difficulty by analogy to another “universal” form of insurance, auto insurance.  If we thought about auto insurance the way we think about health insurance we would expect our auto insurance to pay for oil changes, new tires, engine tune-ups and so on.  In reality auto insurance is only intended for severe or catastrophic problems like a collision (and if it was expanded to the more maintenance expenses it would be vastly more expensive no matter how good a driver you were.)

What if we separated health care and health insurance in the debates and planning for future health care in this country?  I believe this would enable new perspectives and fresh thinking about what we really want and expect in health care and how and what we pay for that care.  What if “universal” health care was designed to make sure that every American could afford such basics as necessary shots, blood pressure and cholesterol screening, mammograms and diabetes testing?  This might be achieved through clinics, tax incentives, or even direct financial assistance for those who needed it (“Health Stamps” like Food Stamps, perhaps?).   Health insurance could then be reserved to address acute or chronic conditions.  This could help to lower the overall cost of health insurance to many of us, and give greater flexibility to those political leaders searching for affordable, politically tenable compromises in improving overall health care in this country.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 2009/12/28 9:30 am

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. 2009/12/28 10:42 am

    Nicely done, Dr. Lent.
    And I love the opening quote.

  3. 2010/01/06 6:31 am

    Nice Post you have, i like it. I will visit this site more often.
    i really like the quote.
    Thanks for the information.

  4. Andrew permalink
    2010/01/16 6:28 am

    fantastic blog 🙂

  5. cellular permalink
    2010/03/14 7:44 pm

    Thank you !!


  1. Health Care? Watch Your Language! « An Economy of Meaning Advice by about

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