'Let sick die!' shout Tea Party fanatics
The debate in Tampa, Florida drew a boisterous crowd composed mainly of Tea Party supporters. Host Wolf Blitzer pressed libertarian candidate Ron Paul on what should happen to a healthy 30-year-old with a good job who decided not to take out health insurance but then suffered a terrible illness.
"Who's going to pay if he goes into a coma," asked Blitzer. Paul replied: "Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him." Pressed further, Paul said the man should "assume responsibility for himself".
Whoops and cheersAs Paul twists, Blitzer goes direct. "Are you saying society should just let him die?" he asks. There are loud whoops, cheers and shouts of "Yeah" from the audience. Paul doesn't respond to the audience, answers "No" and then suggests that "churches, neighbours and friends" should step in.
Eddie Vale of the US Protect Your Care pressure group said: "None of the Republican candidates on stage expressed a word of disapproval as the Tea party audience literally clapped for blood." Figures released just this week revealed the number of US citizens without health insurance was 50m.
Research by US health insurance plans conducted in 2009 showed the average annual premium for an individual in the US was $2,985. For a family it was $6,328. In New York, the family premium was as high as $13,296. In 2009, 45m Americans were without insurance – so a further 5m have slipped out of cover in just two years.
Ugly realityThe disturbing images from the debate reveal the ugly reality behind the rhetoric about 'taking responsibility' and the logical conclusions of arguments which say societies 'can't afford' to take care of the sick or the elderly – or whatever group is deemed unworthy of support.
Blitzer's theoretical situation used the example of a man who choose not to pay for health insurance. But many people cannot afford to have a choice, because they can't afford the policy. That's why supporters of the collective insurance principle behind the NHS argue their case.
Choice is indeed at the heart of the debate. The choice to pay tax to fund a society which takes care of all within it whenever they need it, or the choice to live in a society where the sick are left to die. Unless they can get treatment from the church, friends or neighbours. Like in a Big Society?