Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people – including health care workers – say that health insurance should not pay the hospital bills that unvaccinated COVID patients may incur, or that hospitals should deny, or at least deprioritize, the willfully unvaccinated for care.

I understand where this impulse comes from. Everyone who works in health care is burned out right now. Last Sunday at the walk-in clinic, our two doctors saw 71 patients over a 10-hour shift. Over half of them were people seeking PCR COVID tests. Today at the hospital, I heard a “code stroke” called over the public address system twice, and both times the location was given as a hallway in the emergency room. The ICU is a sanitized war zone.

I myself feel a deep and burning rage at people who scoff at the simple act of wearing a mask, or at people who willfully spread doubts and misinformation about the effects of vaccines or hype quack treatments (yep, I’ve taken messages from patients requesting ivermectin). I have talked to patients who have stayed inside, socially distanced and received all their vaccines and who can’t get an appointment with their pulmonologist until March because the hospital is full of MAGA dorks who need massive amounts of resources and treatment. I get it.

Nonetheless: I believe that denying people health care based on moral judgments about their behavior is bad, and a slippery slope, for two main reasons: one, moral standards are generally subjective. Remember when mainstream America was incredibly slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic because, at first, its primary victims were members of the LGBTQ community and intravenous drug users, and society as a whole had decided those things were “bad”?

The second reason is a truth that is well known to the medical community but still needs to be deeply internalized by America as a whole: Good behavior does not guarantee good health.

The American Colonies were founded in large part by radical Puritans, and a heavy dose of their beliefs still runs through the vein of our modern culture. They thought that good health was proof of God’s favor, and that sickness was punishment for sin. We still cling to this idea, although most people won’t phrase it in such religious tones.

It’s a comforting idea, thinking that if we make good and moral choices that we will remain in good health. And sure, we can make choices that certainly increase the odds of remaining in good health – eating your vegetables, exercising regularly, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. But it’s all a matter of good luck in the end. Tumors can bloom in lungs that have never smoked a single cigarette. You can slip while shoveling your elderly neighbor’s driveway, break your leg in four places and end up bankrupted by the medical bills. Babies – actual, literal infants – can get cancer. And they haven’t had time to make any bad life choices yet. They’re babies! Bad things happen to good people all the time. Life is as unfair as the current iteration of our country’s health care system.

Remember when Paul LePage (you know – that guy who used to be governor) vetoed a bill that would have made it possible to get an overdose-reversal medication without a prescription because “naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose”? Remember how much of a heartless jerk he was? Even people who behave in bad, cruel, selfish and self-destructive ways have people who love them and would be devastated if they were gone. COVID, addiction and cancer are all diseases; it benefits only the rich and powerful to think of health care as something to be dispensed only to the worthy. Let he who has never drunk too much or eaten fried dough cast the first stone.

Compassion is hard. If it were easy, Jesus would have just been some guy from Nazareth. But I want our country to get to a place where, when we feel sick or get into an accident, the first thing we think of is “How can I get to a doctor as fast as possible?” instead of “How much will this cost?” The only way to make that happen is to start thinking about health care as a universal good, a societal benefit, a system that we all participate in, and not a consumer good that we purchase individually. If we want universal health care, we have to dispense it universally. Even to the COVIDiots.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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