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Sebelius’ Allergy against Disease

June 14, 2009

Be afraid, be very afraid when you hear your Secretary of HHS say something like the following in a disapproving manner:

“The health-care system is tilted toward a disease system rather than a wellness system,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an interview.

You bet it is, Madame Sebelius, and it should be. There are two things very wrong with what this statement says:

a) It implies that preventing diseases beyond the level that it is already done in the US is a matter of public concern – meaning that government has an obligation to get more involved in your personal life. This is fine when you’re talking about educating people about life-threatening health risks (think hygiene in underdeveloped countries). But when the secretary of HHS in America is saying it we’re talking about poking our noses into people’s eating habits and lifestyle, treating them like children who must be saved from themselves. And

b) behind this statement lies the notion that being sick is the sick person’s fault. The hidden thought is that people with illnesses are either too stupid to know that their lifestyle is bad for their health or too stupid to correct their lifestyle to prevent their sickness. The fact that the above statement is coming from a proponent of late-term abortions makes the French Cowboy especially uneasy. If babies are considered by Sebelius as little more than objects – to be kept or to be discarded as one sees fit – then how will sick people be treated in the secretary’s brave new world considering that they only have to fault themselves for their condition? Obviously, Sebelius’ logic is that, contrary to a baby, kidney cancer cannot be aborted, so prevention is important. But what happens once prevention has failed? Get rid of the cancer by getting rid of the person who has it? And what about people with hereditary diseases? Will they be allowed to reproduce? There might be the next temptations once it is realised that prevention methods don’t save as much money as Madame Sebelius believes.

But pardonnez-moi for raising such dark spectres. Such horrors are certainly not going to start tomorrow and maybe they never will. Yet the beginnings of a “wellness” health care system will be uncomfortable enough. First of all, the obvious danger: the growth and increased intrusiveness of the state nanny. The ‘bad behaviour’ tax is already a fact. Why stop with cigarettes and beer? Sugary drinks and salt are already considered. What will be next? A law against taking a stroll without sun screen? Will there be a regulation on birthday cakes? How much sugar and fat they are allowed to contain and how much of it you are allowed to eat?

Mostly the French Cowboy is worried about those who are already vulnerable because they will be suffering the most from a Big-Brother nurse. Do you know elderly people? Or sick people? How much of their disease do you think is due to their own (mis)behaviour? Do you think that a ‘work-out law’ will do your depressive, diabetic aunt any good? A letter from the HHS every month in her letter box warning her that if she doesn’t work out three times a week she will be the scum of society? How many people do you know who are overweight or not athletic who wouldn’t prefer being slim and buff? You think they lack the incentives to become so? Do you think HHS secretary Sebelius is the answer to their alleged lack of self-interest? Some cases of obesity are caused through undiagnosed diseases and it can take years to unmask them. Sometimes it just lies in the genes.

Then there is the cost factor. A healthy lifestyle is something you increasingly demand with a growing income. When you have all that money can buy you also want to save the planet from other people’s CO2 emissions and eat organic soy beans for breakfast. When you are a mother with three jobs, four kids, no husband but a diseased grandmother you don’t consider yoga and celery diets a boon to give your over-worked skin cells a break but an additional headache you would rather keep for some other time. Once all your kids have well-paid jobs and send you gift certificates for the spa, for instance.

In a nutshell, the HHS secretary wishing that the health care system was more concerned with preventing diseases than curing them bodes no good. Curing an illness is something you go to see a doctor for. Preventing an illness concerns your everday life – and that’s not anyone’s business except your own and maybe your close family and friends’. So unless you are related to Madame Sebelius she shouldn’t concern herself with what you eat and how many times per week you work out. Of course, once government has its foot in the health sector a ‘save taxpayer money’ motto can serve as the oh-so-rational justification for all kinds of nanny-statism the reach of which will encompass the content of your fridge and your belly.

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