HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

Blood Test for Conservatives

How red is your red-state blood? How true-blue your conservatism? How strong is your tea? In this season where voters are screaming “no” to government spending, here is a health test to probe beneath the rhetoric, to gauge the depth of commitment to cutting off Big Brother at his knees by decimating what screamers agree is a bloated bureaucracy.

Name the last ten restaurants where you have eaten. Do you want government to inspect them for sanitation, food safety, temperature of the dishwasher, cleanliness of the bathrooms?

Do you want Big Brother to inspect all restaurants? A sample of restaurants? How often do you want inspectors to drop in? Do you want sanctions for restaurants that do not comply? Caveat emptor is a bracing slogan, but do you want to apply it to places where you eat?

Name the ponds, lakes, beaches orswimming pools (private and open to the public) where you swim. Answer the same questions as for restaurants. Ages ago, in a far simpler time, Big Brother did not routinely test the quality of swimming holes. Should it?

Name all the bridges you and your family cross in a year. Do you want Big Brother to inspect the bridges for structural flaws? Do you want to pay tolls for upkeep of the bridges? Do you want Big Brother to close ones that don’t comply?

Nursing homes are a zillion-dollar business hobbled with thousands of rules and regulations. An army of bureaucrats analyzes reports-without-end. In the cause of simplification, do you want to scrap some of those rules? Which ones?

Assisted living facilities are a growing industry, largely unhobbled by federal regulations, since little government money goes to the industry. Most residents pay on their own, like tenants on the private market. States have imposed regulations, but those vary by state. Do you want your state to set standards? Carry out inspections? Impose penalties?

Air quality alerts. We hear them each summer, alerting the asthmatics, the elderly, and those with chronic lung conditions to stay indoors. Do we need people to monitor the air? To issue alerts? Is Big Brother overstepping his bounds?

Vaccination campaigns. In a world free of government interference, people would seek out vaccinations for pneumonia, influenza, and all the other contagious maladies on their own. But today state departments of health organize the distribution of vaccine, establish temporary clinics, and monitor compliance. Can we drop that line item in the budget?

Restrictions, restrictions, restrictions. Sometimes Big Brother seems the Great Restrictor, setting limits on the products that give pleasure, like tobacco and alcohol. Government has limited where tobacco companies can advertise their product, who can buy it, where people can smoke it. For alcohol, government has set similar restrictions. Do we want them? In the name of public health, is it worth intruding into the private marketplace? Is it cost-effective?

Seat belts. Safety harnesses for children. Helmets for cyclists. More restrictions from a paternalistic state. Do the savings (fewer accidents, fewer hospitalizations) outweigh the costs of the intrusive police inspections? Do they justify the loss of personal autonomy?

To cut costs, the red-blooded, conservative Tea Partiers propose cutting government payrolls.

This test will measure that resolve. Our taxes pay for people to do a slew of tasks. Workers measure the water temperature in restaurants; they test for bacteria in swimming pools; they evaluate the strength of bridges; they examine bedsores of nursing home residents; they test the fire alarms in assisted living homes; they pull drivers over if children are unbuckled in the front seat; they check whether stores are selling beer and tobacco to minors. If we eliminated these jobs, most of us would not notice the loss right away, if at all. We would have streamlined the bureaucracy.

So add up the “no” responses. How red is your blood? How strong your tea?

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2011

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