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What's your life worth?

I touched on the topic of health care briefly last week, but given all the hullaballoo the past few days, I guess it's time to get in there and get messy.

I believe the best health care should be available to everyone regardless of how much money they have. I know that's pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it's what I believe. Why should a waitress die and an executive live just because one can afford the best treatment and the other can't?

Many would say it comes down to personal responsibility and achievement - the executive earned his fortune and therefore can afford the cost. If only that waitress had done the same thing ...

But that's one of the big problems we have with our current mind-set. A capitalist system assumes that everyone will equate success with money and therefore will strive to have as much as possible to position themselves best in the market. Those who don't attain a certain level of success must pay the cost (pardon the pun) of their perceived lack of ambition.

The problem is that's not reality. Not everyone is going to be able or even want to be wealthy or even "successful." Some will find happiness in service that lacks reward. Are they less deserving of a healthy life for making that choice?

Not that I'm not knocking capitalism. It's a better system than any other one man has invented - usually. But we've seen in the past few years that, unfettered by regulation, capitalism will take the path that leads to the greatest profit, no matter the risk and to the point of immorality.

The market must put a value on everything, including weighing the cost of keeping you healthy versus the cost of letting you get sick and die. And therein lies the fundamental problem: We place a monetary value on health, and that's wrong.

Once you allow any entity, whether it's a private insurance company or a government, to start equating your health with a bottom line, the end result must be rationing. There is no other alternative.

Neither supporters of single-payer nor backers of the current system seem to understand this: Both systems ration care. Insurance companies turn down treatments every day in the name of greater profits. And yes, government systems like Britain's do the same thing in the interest of saving public funds.

People are yelling and screaming in town halls all over this country because they've already lost so much control over their own lives and they see even more slipping away in the name of political power and money. They fear the idea of the government being in charge of their fate, but they fare no better with insurance companies beholden to shareholders. They know something must change, but having a 1,000-plus pages of frenzied change rammed down their throats wasn't the remedy they were looking for.

Can we make health care about health and not about profit? Are we capable of taking this one area of our lives and making it off-limits to greed?

Until we answer those questions, someone besides you and your doctor will always have a say in the treatment you receive.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.