The Greek tragedian Aeschylus encounters the philosopher Socrates lounging against a large rock along the Panathenaic Way.
Socrates: Greetings, fair Aeschylus! What theatrical news from the Agora have you this lovely August morning?
Aeschylus: My best to you, good Socrates. As for the news, tell me truly: have you not heard of the latest contentious debates in the Senate? A small select committee of finance has initiated discussions concerning our health care system.
Soc: What’s this: discussions on Athenian health care? But why do you, fair Aeschylus, being a poet and playwright, concern yourself with such matters?
Aesch: I do as a citizen of Athens, and you would do well to do likewise, Socrates. “When men are willing and eager, the gods join in.” But I fear that in the end the fates will dictate that we will all pay dearly for the results of these proceedings in one way or another.
Soc: Tell me then of the particulars and the arguments of each camp, that I might become a more informed citizen and better understand the issues at hand.
Aesch: The debate continues to rage, one faction pitted against another. As I am certain you know, Socrates, there are four major players—the insurers, the sorcerers, the physicians, the solicitors—each at the others’ throats. Naturally, each faction has a vested interest in the final proposal, for the proposal shall be put forward on the floor of the general Senate, there to be voted upon; and if approved, to become law, which all parties will then be bound to adhere to, not to mention the general populus—the citizenry—which will bear the brunt of the final outcome.
Soc: Proceed then, fair Aeschylus, for I know you to be a true and noble author of tragedy, to tell me the arguments of each faction and the reasoning behind them, if you know it.
Aesch: Because I perceive that you are first and foremost a seeker of truth, good Socrates, this I shall endeavor to do. Well you know our present dilemma—how the citizens of Athens are forced to pay exorbitant sums of drachmae into common pools used to cover the cost of care rendered by our physicians should any citizen fall ill; and how much of this silver coin remains horded in the purses of the insurers, making them rich at the expense of the common folk. “Human prosperity never rests, but always craves more.”
Soc: But is not this idea a sound one in that it insures the health of the citizenry?
Aesch: In theory, yes. But the problem arises in that, should a particular citizen become ill and require ongoing care, the insurers drop him from further coverage. “Ah, lives of men! When prosperous they glitter like a fair picture! When misfortune comes—a wet sponge at one blow has blurred the painting.”
Soc: How can this be so, Aeschylus? If a citizen has paid, he is eligible for care. It is the moral obligation of the insurers to pay for whatever care he requires. Indeed, that is the reasoning behind such insurance—risk is spread over large numbers of individual citizens, for chance dictates that not all will fall ill at any given moment. In fact, many will not fall ill until time leaves his grey mark on their temples and they grow old and gnarled like the ancient oaks at the foot of Mount Olympus.
Aesch: How well the insurers understand this, Socrates. “But it is always in season for old men to learn.” If such persons are dropped from the system, or excluded due to preexisting conditions, the profit of the insurers will be maximized—
Soc: At the expense of the very citizens whom they have sworn to protect from financial ruin! “There is no sickness worse for me than words, that to be kind, must lie.” But hear me now, Aeschylus—can not the citizens band together and pay these sums in the form of slightly higher taxes to the government, and could not the government cover the cost of the needs of those who become sick?
Aesch: There are many citizens who would consider this to be a reasonable option.
Soc: So, is this public option under discussion?
Aesch: It has been dismissed as balderdash by the members of the Senate.
Soc: Dismissed? How now, Aeschylus—tell me, and by whom specifically?
Aesch: Those of the sorcerers’ guild and significant numbers of those of the Aesculapian guild have banded together with the insurers to convince the blue dog democratic Senators to look upon the public option with suspicion.
Soc: For what reason?
Aesch: They say it smacks of socialized medicine, but in the end it will mean less profit for the members of each of the three guilds. Know you not that “in every tyrant’s heart there springs in the end this poison”—this craving for greater wealth?
Soc: But a public option would insure coverage of the cost of care for all citizens! Morally, why would we not want to make our health care system to better serve the needs of the Athenian populus? Is that not more important than mere profit?
Aesch: That all depends on which camp you find yourself in, good Socrates. Sometimes “it is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.” Moreover, “it is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer.”
Soc: But then the original concept of insurance—all citizens paying into a large pool to cover the expense of all those who fall ill—is thwarted.
Aesch: You have struck the head of the forged nail with the hardened hammer truly, Socrates. It would all appear comic, were it not so tragic. “Who, except the gods, can live time through forever without any pain?”
Soc: Tell me, Aeschylus: is there no remedy then? Is there nothing that can be done to insure the overall health of the citizens of Athens without bankrupting the state?
Aesch: I hear that those Senators of the general democratic persuasion have put forth the idea of health care cooperatives that would compete with those of the insurers’ guild in an effort to drive down the cost of health care.
Soc: And does this seem a viable alternative?
Aesch: No one fully understands the concept as yet; hence, no one can explain how it might function. “He hears but half who hears one party only.” Furthermore, rumor has it that the republicans of Plato will not support it.
Soc: Plato! Why, he was a former student of mine.
Aesch: “Even the wisest of the wise may err.”
Soc: Perhaps I should pay him a visit and open a friendly dialog with him.
Aesch: I wish you luck, good Socrates. “His resolve is not to seem the bravest, but to be.” Yet I surmise that there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy.
Soc: How poetically you speak, Aeschylus! May I quote you when next I meet with Plato?
Aesch: Best strike it from the record for now, Socrates. Who knows but that this turn of phrase might find its way into some future tragedy as yet unwritten.