Reduce parallel play to provide decent health care for all


I have been doing health care research and advocacy for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of passion, anger, and rhetoric around the issues. The health care crisis is simple in that everyone needs health care. The question is what to do about it and who should pay for it.

It’s not an easy answer. For starters, we have turned into a culture of entitlement. This includes health care. It might be a “right,” but someone has to pay for it. And we want to pretend that it’s someone else’s responsibility. Recently, I was reading comments following an article on an online news outlet. I was struck by how little understanding there is about how health care and insurance work.

For example, going to the emergency room because one does not have health care, is not free. The desire to not pay for insurance, as a “right to choose” gives the rest of us the “right” to pay for that unpaid bill. The hospitals, by law, have to take everyone who comes, regardless of whether or not they can pay. Therefore, the hospitals treat that patient, in the emergency room or in another part of the hospital, which means the rest of us pay that bill via our tax dollars. It’s all about risk pools and how it all works. I’m not really sure how anyone would gain this understanding. For a long period of time for many people, insurance just paid. We paid our premiums, or those premiums were paid by our employer or a government program, and most of our bills were then covered.

The basic fact, well supported by research, is that without adequate health care, people will remain sick, suffer, infect others, and/or crowd into the emergency rooms, thus continuing to drive up those costs. However, although health care concerns us all, we are not all working together towards the end goal of health care for everyone. Instead, we tend to engage in what developmental psychologists call “parallel play.” We are in proximity to each other, interested in mutual activity, but we do not interact. We’ve all seen little children sit on the floor and play next to each other. They might talk to themselves, but not to each other. They may or may not share toys. It is as if they are invisible to each other.

Except this “parallel play” isn’t child’s play. This “play” is serious business. And it’s not going to get us what we say that we want: health care for all.

We have now an unprecedented opportunity to work together and to help each other understand the complexities of the health care crisis and how it is playing out. People are speaking out now as never before. The passion and commitment of the newly born grassroots organizations is unparalleled in our country since the 1960s. They have hit the ground running, but often without the clinical, research, scientific, economic, legal, or policy knowledge to make their actions most effective. Ranging from academia to grassroots organizations, in all these various kinds of venues, each group has information, and could share it, with everyone benefiting from what others know. We all need to work together to reduce the parallel play and find a way to provide decent health care for all.

Peggy A. Rothbaum is a psychologist and can be reached at her self-titled site, Dr. Peggy Rothbaum.  She is the author of I Have Been Talking with Your Doctor: Fifty doctors talk about the healthcare crisis and the doctor-patient relationship.

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