It takes a web of public support to keep ourselves healthy

Mention “the web” and many people will think you’re talking about the Internet. But when you’re having a serious medical problem, you see an entirely different network in action.

Two weeks ago, as my body tried — at first, in vain — to fight off a serious infection, my family and friends were the first set of those connections. They took me to the doctor and dentist, made sure I took antibiotics, talked to me, and comforted me. I’m grateful. I certainly was not in any condition to do that on my own. But I’m also grateful for the many other connections that supported them and made my care possible. Family and friends can only do so much.

Consider the doctors, l technicians, nurses, medical assistants and dentists who help us. We have this professional workforce thanks to public investments in the University of Washington’s medical school and nursing school, numerous community colleges and other universities and colleges across the state and nation. Not only was their cost of education subsidized by the state, but all the capital investments in building and technology for medical education came from the state’s taxpayers.

Consider the growing list of MRIs, CT scans, biologic drugs and cancer treatments now available. These advances are possible because of government investments in health research and development, through the National Institutes of Health. Anti-cancer drugs like Taxol, that have saved my sister’s life and thousands of others, were initially developed by the federally funded National Cancer Institute.

These are public triumphs for everyone’s health. But even those require a network to succeed. The priorities we set as a society, and enact through our democracy, are the foundation for everyone’s protection, health and quality of life.

Consider the roads leading to and from our homes and nearby medical facilities. No single person builds and maintains them. We chose to pool our resources via collective taxation to shape our transportation network.

Consider that half of all people in Washington have health insurance through government financing, whether via Apple Care, Medicare, Obamacare the State Health Benefit Exchange, or as public employees of school districts, fire districts, the state, counties and cities. My wife, sister and brother-in-law are part of this network. So is anyone over 65, all kids under 18, and many retired fans of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This woven web of coverage isn’t perfect, but it beats handing your fate over to a private market interested more in profits than patients.

Consider that now in Seattle and Tacoma and Spokane, you can take a work day to care for yourself or sick family member without fear of losing your wages or your job. That’s only possible because the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane city councils passed ordinances to make it so. Initiative 1433, the statewide ballot measure now gathering signatures, would extend this network of law to all workers in the state.

When you are sick, you gain a new perspective on life. It tends to diminish one’s own sense of self-importance. That humbling is a good thing. We all need some perspective about ourselves away from the noise and ego of everyday life. It shatters the self-made, up-by-my-bootstraps, don’t-need-any-help edifice that too often masquerades as some kind of American ethos.

A person is only able to lead a healthy life because of the entire web around them: of society, government, health professionals, friends and family. Keep that in mind as certain presidential candidates invoke the founders of our country or other contemporary leaders as paragons of self-sufficiency. None of us are or were — not the founders (whose quality of life was enabled through the slave labor), not Donald Trump (whose wealth is protected by bankruptcy courts and civil law), and not Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (who, like many of us, benefit from publicly provided health coverage).

We are all in this together, no matter what the color of our skin or the accents and language of our voices. It’s time to bury the hubris and take a large dosage of humility — maybe like some of our great-grandparents took a spoonful of cod liver oil each morning. Then we need to figure out how to advance as a nation of interconnected and interdependent individuals striving for lives of purpose, hope, happiness and solidarity.

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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