Profits and prophets

The recent health care speech and debate has turned our attention to the idea of a profit motive.    Despite scare-mongering to the contrary, the plan on the table does not socialize medical care.  But President Obama makes no bones about the idea that the profit motive in this case needs to be kept in check.

I think he’s right.  And I think that’s these special ways that this plays out for Christians.

Many people believe that the more unregulated the profit motive is, the more efficient we, as a society become.  Self interest, they say, is the only trait we can really expect from people.  We end up saying if a person behaves in their own self interest this is a morally good thing for them to do.

But are we prepared to deal with the fall out when we apply this logic to providers of health care?  Some of the following are theoretic problems.  Some are actual, every-day, real world problems.  But all of them are examples of health care providers acting to maximize profits:

* Whenever it is cheaper to let a person die than treat a person, it is in the best interest of the provider to allow the person to die, if treatment will be more expensive than the premiums that the person will pay for the rest of their life.

* Whenever amputation is cheaper than rehabilitation or treating an ailment, we should expect the provider to amputate, provided that the amputation won’t interfere with the patient’s ability to pay premiums.

* The cheapest treatment will be preferred.  Even if this treatment is painful, inefficient, carries side effects, etc, this is the one that a rational health care provider will go with.

Their is a public relations aspect to all this.  It can be argued that companies might be willing to lose some profit because the negative PR will cost them more.  And sometimes this helps.  But the PR thing, it’s just another expense.  It’s just a further piece for the executives to figure into the equation.  Somewhere, right now, there is a guy in a suit.  And he is saying “If we do X, we will save Y dollars.   However, the negative PR will cost us an extra ___ dollars.  Which decision leads to a larger profit?  Is there a way we can spend a few dollars to undo that negative PR?”

I’m not meaning to demonize the executives.  They are between a rock and a hard place.  The problem is with the system itself.

For Christians, there is a further complication in all this.

If it’s true that self-interested decisions are the only reliable motivations, then this is a result of man’s fall.  Are we really foolish enough to want to court this?  Are we arrogant enough to think we can harness this?  Do we realize that this really is a deal with The Devil himself, in quite a literal way?

In so many things we are faced with a very difficult balancing act.  On the one side, we must accept that the world is a certain way.  On the other side, we should try to hope, work, and fight for a world that is better.  On the whole, an economy which is capitalistically oriented is a wise recognition of the way that a world is.  But to suggest that industries such as health care ought to be driven by capitalism is to go to far in this direction.

Advertisements