The fence or the ambulance

To the editor:

Which is wiser? To put a fence around the edge of a cliff, or an ambulance down in the valley? Which is better? Prevention, or cure?

There’s an old poem that asks that question, and the answer is obvious. If you build a good fence around the edge of a cliff, you greatly reduce the need for an ambulance down in the valley.

Of course, real life isn’t so clear cut. In real life, you know that we need both the fence and the ambulance. No matter how careful we are to maintain our health and safety, most of us will eventually need some major health care.

That is what makes our current health care debate a difficult one. We all want a good, strong fence at the edge of the cliff, and we all recognize the need for an ambulance down in the valley.

But what constitutes a good, strong fence, and how should it be built? Under the old system, each individual was responsible for constructing his or her own fence. Each of us was responsible for seeing to his or her own health insurance. Under the old system, the fence at the top of the cliff had millions of strong sections, and millions of people and their families were prevented from falling. On the whole, it provided a great deal of protection to large numbers of people at a relatively reasonable cost. And when someone needed an ambulance, the ambulance was there.

Under the new system, the fence has been taken out of the hands of the individual citizens and placed under control of the federal government. The fence will be as wide and as strong as Washington bureaucrats decide it will be. They have promised that no one will fall through. They have promised that if someone does, a better ambulance will be there to pick him or her up. And it will cost less. We’ll see.

Most of us had satisfactory experience with the old fence and ambulance. I’m quite skeptical about the new one. After all, the federal government doesn’t have a very good record when it comes to building fences. I hope they’re more serious about protecting our health than they are about protecting the border.

Michael A. Thom

New Ulm

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