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Saturday, October 9, 2010

That burning sensation gets worse

by John MacBeath Watkins

Remember that Tennessee fire where South Fulton firefighters stood and watched a house burn down because the owner hadn't paid a $75 annual fee for fire protection?

Now it turns out that three dogs and a cat burned to death in that fire.  That's an even greater nightmare for the firefighters who were ordered not to put the fire out, and more proof of the moral bankruptcy of those who ordered them not to.

The firefighters, you may recall, were already there with their gear, having responded to the fire in a field belonging to the neighbor of the Cranick family.  The neighbor had paid his fee.

So the firefighters were there, Mr. Cranick was offering to pay whatever it took to get them to put out the fire consuming his house, but the firemen were ordered to stand down.

Nobody becomes a firefighter to watch a family lose its home, and these people certainly didn't become firefighters so that they could let peoples' pets die horribly in a fire.

Ezra Klein has a post on how this relates to the healthcare debate -- less of a stretch than you might imagine.  His argument is that if you treat firefighting as insurance, then put the fire out for people who haven't paid, that's bad business.  That's why you have to treat firefighting as a public good, and the same applies to health insurance.  It's unconscionable to let the house burn down because someone didn't pay the fee, and it's also unconscionable to let someone die because they don't have insurance.

That's an argument for making healthcare a public good.  Only our healthcare reform doesn't really do that, instead it is a reform of the way health insurance works.  It's better than the system we've got, which works much like the South Fulton Fire Department, but even when it is fully in force in 2014, it will be insurance-based.

The reform is not particularly popular, which has led Republicans to believe that repealing it should be possible.  The problem with that theory is that according to an AP poll conducted last month, those who don't think the reform goes far enough outnumber those who think it goes too far 2-1.

Politics is the art of the possible.  The reform we've got was nearly impossible to pass, and a reform a majority of Americans would agree in advance was the right way to go was impossible.  We can only hope that the reform we've got gets a chance, and is revised in a way that makes it better.  But don't expect the current election to produce that result.  The Republican platform calls for a system that works more like the South Fulton Fire Department.

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