The philosopher Socrates encounters his former student of political science in the marketplace.
Socrates: Good day, Plato, if my dim ancient eyes do detect this human form to indeed be Plato, who lately sat at my feet in the Academy of Athens.
Plato: Socrates, my former mentor and fellow citizen! How good to see you; how well you look!
Soc: And you also, my friend, though you seem to have filled in about the midriff more than a mere smidgen. The life of a politico must agree with your constitution. I have lately encountered Aeschylus along the Parathenaic Way, who tells me that you have been engaged in extensive dialog in the Senate chambers regarding proposals for the reform of our health care system.
Plato: Aeschylus speaks the truth, good Socrates, albeit with a lower case “t”.
Soc: What—how say you now, that Truth is no longer Truth?
Plato: True enough, Socrates.
Soc: But how can this be so?
Plato: In the political realm the fine lines between truth and opinion blur the vision.
Soc: I perceive that you, like the clever foxes, have spoken wisely. But tell me, how goes the debate?
Plato: Formerly, not well. But our August recess has allowed us to plant seeds of doubt amongst those citizens formerly in favor of democratic proposals for a public option. We have also been able to mount a media campaign in the Agora against the liberal idea of government run health care, which, if truth be known, would undoubtedly bankrupt the Athenian treasury.
Soc: And what is the proposal of those of the republic?
Plato: For the time being, to leave things as they are. There is plenty of time for discussion and debate. The last thing we want to do is to rush prematurely into redesigning a system which has become the envy of the Mediterranean world.
Soc: Aeschylus has spoken to me of its vile corruption, of the unethical behavior of those of the insurers’ guild, the sorcerers, and some of the guild of Aesculapius—that many are motivated by profit at the expense of the citizenry.
Plato: Aeschylus is a poet, a dramatist, a tragedian. He knows not of what he speaks—all health care is based on the business model. In the end profit is good, for what profits me ultimately profits you.
Soc: How so then? Please explain this concept to me.
Plato: If the reward of potential profit motivates me to deliver a better product or service, you benefit from those improvements, in whatever form they happen to take.
Soc: In this case improved health care delivery means better health for all citizens of Athens?
Plato: In theory, yes.
Soc: How so, “in theory”?
Plato: It depends upon those products or services. For example, if you need a heart transplant—”
Soc: A heart transplant! What next—will they take my soul as well?
Plato: My sources tell me that they’re working on that too. But we digress. As I was saying, if you need a heart transplant, you can get one done in a timely fashion right here in Athens. In Macedonia, you would have to wait months, perhaps years, and never be guaranteed a heart in the end.
Soc: So you infer that, meantime, I might die of a broken heart?
Plato: Exactly! But you live in Athens, where the health care is the best in the Mediterranean world. Why would you want to change it?
Soc: Tell me, Plato, what is the cost of such a procedure?
Plato: The cost of a heart transplant? Off the top of my head I can not say—perhaps 100,000 drachmae—
Soc: One hundred thousand drachmae! Why, that is outlandish! With costs of that magnitude, how can we hope to sustain the present system?
Plato: Those of the insurers’ guild will increase premiums to cover costs.
Soc: Aeschylus tells me that much of the silver coin remains in the purses of the insurers. Is this true?
Plato: Not much—only one drachma in five.
Soc: One drachma in five! That’s 20 percent.
Plato: That’s part of the business of health care. Remember—profit is the incentive that motivates progress.
Soc: And what should it profit mankind if we gain the whole world but lose the health of our collective soul?
Plato: As I said before, good Socrates, we’re working on fixing that one as well.