Of Mice, Men, and Universal Health Insurance

Of Mice, Men, and Universal Health Insurance

Published: Sep 14, 2009 at 9:06 am

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” -Robert Burns
On my son’s summer reading list this year was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a tragic novella set during the Great Depression. It is a story of George Milton and Lennie Small, migrant ranch workers dreaming of owning their own property and living ‘off the fatta the lan.’ Their dreams are ultimately doomed when the mentally disabled Lennie unwittingly kills the boss’ daughter-in-law.
Of Mice and Men pulls its name from the Burns poem, describing how no plan is fool-proof. Lennie Small was described as a man of immense strength, but with the mental capabilities of a child. Lennie was a likable character, with all the innocence and kindness of a child – despite the forgetfulness and lack of understanding that go with it. George Milton was a smart man, caring for and protecting Lennie in hopes that they would both ultimately leave their troubles and live in paradise. George, too, was a likable character, and realized in the end that he should have foreseen the tragic ending to their tale. It struck me as an important lesson for us all in the dangers of being naïve when one should not be.
I was reminded of our current debate over universal health insurance. The proposition that all Americans should have health insurance is as likable as Lennie Small; it is innocent and kind to wish the very best coverage for all Americans all the time. But it is ultimately naïve to think that a single-payer, government-controlled health insurance plan is better than even our current health care system. A taxpayer-funded mandate that we all pay for everyone else’s health care means that we all have a stake in everyone else’s health – making everything from your eating habits to your exercise plans part of the government’s domain.
As even proponents of the ‘government option’ admit, items such as the exemption threshold for private insurance options may be arbitrarily reduced or removed. This means that your access to private plans can be effectively eliminated at the whim of the government, so ultimately it could be government bureaucrats making decisions on your health – and your life. Expecting that such a thing will not happen is as foolish as the characters in Of Mice and Men not foreseeing what should have been obvious.
Demanding your neighbor pay for your health insurance hints at an even bigger underlying problem; namely, that people expect their government to provide things which could and should be earned themselves. Our founding fathers did not write for ‘life, liberty, and single-payer health insurance,’ nor did they risk their lives and fortunes to expect their neighbors to pay for it. To the contrary, they fought for their right to self-determination and independence, which in the face of recent political events seems revolutionary 200 years after the fact.
It is time for us all to grow up, and to realize that the naïve belief that government can benevolently bring everything to everyone will ultimately destroy our liberty and self-determination. Nowhere could this be more obvious than in the current health insurance bill, and our need to stop it could not be more urgent. George ended his tale and his dreams with a bullet to the back of Lenny’s head. We need to keep fighting so that our ending is not so tragic.