Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Who Failed the Dead Welfare Kid?

When a kid dies of an untreated dental abscess, who's to blame?

I'm talking about Deamonte Driver, a kid from Maryland.  It's a story from Avik Roy's book "How Medicaid Fails the Poor," retailed by Mona Charen.
When Deamonte complained of a toothache in September 2006, his mother began calling around, seeking a dentist who would take a patient with Medicaid coverage. 
When she finally found a dentist, he reported that "Deamonte had six abscessed teeth and required the services of an oral surgeon."  But that took more delay, and Deamonte ended up in the emergency room.  One of his abscesses had spread to the brain.  Despite brain surgery, Deamonte died from this untreated dental problem.

Yeah, there is no question that Medicaid "failed" Deamonte.  But there is something that worries me more.

Deamonte had six abscessed teeth.  So did Deamonte's mother think that unless she got medical and dental for free she couldn't do anything about it?  Did she have no husband with a job, no relatives that could kick in a couple hundred bucks?  No savings?  No church?

To me, the central problem with the liberal welfare state is the implied removal of responsibility.  It's the government's job to educate my children, the government's job to give me health care, the government's job to rescue me from poverty -- and that releases me from responsibility.

Back when the National Health Service came in in Britain, people were ecstatic because now the worry was gone, the worry that, if someone in the family got sick, it could wipe you out.  Now the government would take care of the worry.

But suppose the government doesn't do its job, as we are finally learning that it doesn't.  In Britain we are finally learning that the care in NHS hospitals is appalling, and people are left to die without being properly fed and hydrated.  Supposing Medicaid underpays doctors so that very few of them are willing to take Medicaid patients.  Suppose Medicaid recipients have trained themselves not to spend money on health care and dentistry.

Why then, if little Johnny gets a toothache you don't get him to the dentist unless it's free.  Because after all you are a single mother and you can't afford to pay for regular dental checkups.  And if no dentists in your area take Medicaid, then it's not your fault.

No doubt.  And it's not your fault that your kid dies because none of those greedy doctors would agree to treat your kid for free.

By the way, I know a doctor who does see Medicaid patients, despite the hassle and the low pay.  He just does it because he's a mensch.  And these folk come in with serious dental problems all the time.

But let's think about what we know.  This kid died because his mom didn't get healthcare and because she lived her life on the assumption that if she couldn't get it for free then she couldn't get it.  And it wasn't her fault.

There is another way of life, a way of life different from the neo-tribal way of the welfare state dependent.  That way of life is the way of the People of the Responsible Self.

On the way of the People of the Responsible Self, "it's not my fault" isn't an option.  You construct your life so that, if your kid gets sick, you can afford a doctor.  And if you can't you just load up the credit cards.  Because money is money, bankruptcy is bankruptcy, but your kid is your kid.  With money you can lose it and get it back.  With bankruptcy you can go through a few years of hardship but get through it.  But when your kid is dead there is no getting him back.  He's gone.

The mistake too many people make is to believe the politicians and think of government as a ministering angel.  It isn't.  Government is all about power; government is force, and politics is division.  The only thing the politician is interested in is getting elected and reelected.  He'll promise you things, and set up programs and all the rest.  But if your kid needs medical treatment and you don't have the money then you are living on a hope and a prayer.  Maybe government will come through; maybe it won't.  Why would you put all your eggs in one basket and live your life on the assumption that government will live up to its promises?

The reason for humans being social animals is that it improves the chance of survival.  If you have a two-parent family it improves the chances of survival.  If you have a job, it improves the chances of survival.  If you have brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts it improves the chances of survival.  If you join a church or a fraternal association it improves the chances of survival.

The problem with the welfare state is that it seduces people into believing that they can neglect all the social connections as long as they have their government benefits.  When things go wrong, they can always say "it's not my fault."

That is what they call famous last words.  Because the government safety net is not really a safety net at all.  It is just an illusion, a promise from a politician.  A real safety net is a mighty multi-stranded web.  It includes a spouse, a job, an extended family, emergency savings, friendships, relationships, memberships.  The more you have, the stronger and the safer is your safety net.  The less you have, the more you are at risk.

In the end, the excuses are just excuses.  Because when your kid is dead, your kid is dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment