Recently in California the mother of a dead child organized a demonstration in front of her insurance company. The daughter had been deathly ill and one of her doctors had suggested that they try an organ transplant. The insurance company initially refused to cover this, since they considered it experimental in this case, but eventually they relented after significant political pressure. A week after they agreed to cover it, the girl died. The mother had then sued the company and failed. So she in her grief and outrage was now picketing, and while she and her group were doing this an insurance company employee who was passing through the line flipped her the bird, which was caught on camera.
Of course, liberal websites all over the place lit up like Christmas trees over this latest documented proof that insurance companies and their employees are intrinsically evil. The president of the company apologized (we don’t know if the worker was fired), but the apology itself was viewed by many as a cynical public-relations ploy.
I found that I could relate to both the mother and the worker. I could relate to the mother directly because my younger brother died just a year ago because being uninsured he didn’t think that he could seek the liver transplant that would have saved his life. And I can relate to the worker because our industry has become so demonized in the current political environment that for many of us to even admit in company that we work for the insurance industry is to risk what the Irish call a “fla.” I have even heard of bloggers who are forced to write under a pseudonym, so strong and dangerous are the pressures both inside the job and outside.
Now on one hand, as a capitalist operative with a capitalist point of view I know that the health-insurance industry is a business that simply grew up around the provision of health benefits to workers. I know that health care is now bracketed out as something special, but as a consumer, if not a Christian, I feel that one could bracket out in the same way all sorts of things such as the right to food, to a roof, to gas, electricity, clothing, etc.
But my position as a capitalist operative dovetails in this case with my lifelong propensity to criticize capitalism. If insurance in America is just another capitalist enterprise, demonizing it may not only cause us to NOT see how the industry is really structured, demonizing one type of enterprise against all the other enterprises serves to support capitalism as such. If one group is simply operating in bad faith, it follows that the rest of the system must be sound except for these bad eggs.
Insurance as a capitalist enterprise has until relatively recently been a success within its parameters of providing medical coverage as a benefit for workers while supporting an underlying price structure for services that cover all of the expensive innovations that the American health-care system is noted for. The Right is correct in this. But the insurance industry has failed in what was never its goal in the first place; to provide cheap and complete health care benefits for everyone. And the Right is incorrect here when they take the Pollyanna approach and say that the free market will simply fix this.
On the other hand, the Left is wrong when it brackets out insurance companies for demonization and then looks for the structural proofs of our personal moral failures. American insurance is part of what American health care is in American capitalist society. It is no more and no less ethical than any other capitalist enterprise. Its failings are the failings of any capitalist enterprise and its strengths are the strengths of any capitalist enterprise. The man with the bird that I mentioned at the beginning is frustrated because he feels that he is arbitrarily being singled out. He knows, as we all know in this business, that one could just as easily demonize the doctors, the hospitals, or the approach of the general consumer to health, life styles, old age, and death. It all fits together, not only as the moral system that we call capitalism, but as an economic structure; as tight as the inner structure of the watch on your wrist.
And the most frustrating thing for me as a Christian working inside the business is that both the Left and the Right seem to be entirely missing the point.