The dialogue between Mr. Hirschi (Mailbag, Dec. 13 and Jan. 10) and Dr. Huntington (Dec. 29) about the value of a universal health care system revolved around a single word: freedom. Freedom to access affordable health care vs. the "negative liberty" from being "tyrannically coerced" into contributing to a publicly funded health care system.
Beyond the hyperbolic acronyms, I see the issue in a broader picture: a social order one chooses to live in. All choices we make in life come with the balance of benefits against risks or costs, and the "negative liberty" we claim may indirectly affect others: If I choose not to have health insurance, should I expect others to pay, through their own premiums, for my hospital bills when an unforeseeable accident or illness happens to me? If I refuse to pay my share of taxes, can the fire department or police refuse to come to my rescue?
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Humans are social creatures because we rely on each other for mutual protection and support, and those benefits come with shared responsibilities, costs and public health laws — yes, laws — like mandatory use of car seat belts, public tobacco bans and gun safety measures. Ensuring universal access to health care can also be a sound policy for a healthy and safe society for everyone.
In the end, we do have a choice: to live in a society where we care for each other, even if it costs us some freedom; or to live in a place of "me first" and "don't you dare tread on me."
Chinh Le, MD
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