I was listening to National Public Radio's morning "news" Monday
on the way to work, during which the newsperson read the apparently
"factual" statement that the United States is the only developed country
that does not provide "comprehensive" health care coverage.
Perhaps only those of us who are highly trained ideological
vigilantes would leap to attention on the use of the word comprehensive. To
most people, the word comprehensive sounds good. Of course, those who
opposed "comprehensive immigration reform" a few seasons ago might have
started twitching on hearing the word applied to health care reform.
Comprehensive, as the dictionary defines it, means "including
all or everything." It is very similar in meaning to the definition of
total, which the dictionary defines as "complete, thorough." If something
includes everything, it is complete.
Of course, it is not surprising that NPR uses the White House
talking-point word "comprehensive" rather than its synonym "total," because
total health care coverage easily might sound like totalitarian health care
coverage. And by the way, the dictionary defines totalitarian as "having and
exercising complete political power and control." Note that pesky word
complete a synonym for comprehensive in the definition of
And of course, the word "reform" (as in the phrase
"comprehensive health care reform"), which is defined as "to improve by
alteration, correction of error or removal of defects; put in better form"
is itself subjective and assumes several facts not in evidence most
pointedly that a reform will "improve" or "correct" an "error" or "defect."
The foregoing is not intended as merely overdrawn semantics.
Words convey concepts, which shape public thoughts, which lead to public
support for legislation, which may change the way we live our lives and
meet our deaths.
So to provide comprehensive health care reform suggests that
defects and errors in our current limited health care system would be
improved and corrected with complete health care services for all. What
could be wrong with having new, improved and complete stuff for all? After
all, for generations we have heard on television similar words: "Improved
Tiger Flakes provide complete calcium and vitamin needs for your children's
But sometimes, partially hidden meanings in persuasive-sounding
words may be unwelcome truths that advocates don't want the public to think
Because, when you think about it, it also could be said of
America that we do not have a "comprehensive food-provision system" or a
"comprehensive clothing-provision system" or a "comprehensive housing
system" or a "comprehensive economic-planning system" or a "comprehensive
In fact, of course, those comprehensive systems are only
available in countries that comprehensively control human lives and actions.
How else can the government assure "complete" things if it doesn't control
things "completely" or "totally"?
We have seen many examples in this sad world of what the
citizens get when their governments provide comprehensive or total goods and
services. Freedom of action or inaction is possessed "comprehensively"
by the government, while whatever the government gives the public
"comprehends" the total that the public gets of a good or service. As
between two parties, something comprehensively possessed by one is, by
definition, completely not possessed by the other.
The current health care proposal is a ripe example. In a recent
op-ed defending the administration's health care proposal, Sen. Ted Kennedy
and Bob Shrum argued: "We also need to move from a system that rewards
doctors for the sheer volume of tests and treatments they prescribe to one
that rewards quality and positive outcomes. For example, in Medicare today,
18 percent of patients discharged from a hospital are readmitted within 30
days at a cost of more than $15 billion in 2005. Most of these
readmissions are unnecessary, but we don't reward hospitals and doctors for
preventing them. By changing that, we'll save billions of dollars while
improving the quality of care for patients."
But as Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard brilliantly pointed
out about the idea that the readmissions aren't needed and that we don't
reward the prevention of them: "The most important implication of the
Kennedy-Shrum claim ... is this: The government is going to decide ahead
of time, obviously, since deciding after the fact wouldn't save any money;
and based on certain general criteria, since the government isn't going to
review each individual case what kinds of hospital readmissions for the
elderly are 'unnecessary' and what kinds aren't. And it's going to set up a
system 'to reward hospitals and doctors for preventing' the unnecessary
ones. That is, the government will reward hospitals and doctors for denying
care they now provide, care the government will now deem 'unnecessary.'"
Of course, we have the advantage that the Kennedy-Shrum article
was published for all to read. The actual legislation doubtlessly will not
be available for review before it is voted on.
All we can know for sure is that the Democrats' comprehensive
health care reform legislation will empower bureaucrats comprehensively to
make all decisions, vital and trivial, regarding your health care
coverage or non-coverage. The comprehensive power of the federal
government will completely and totally extinguish your control over your
The price of freedom is that you will not be taken care of
comprehensively. The price of being taken care of comprehensively is that
you won't be free. You pays your price and you takes your choice. Down with
Comprehensiveness! Up the Revolution!