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A Health Care Parable

17 Oct

There was a family of four living in the suburbs of a major city. A mother and father, and two young children, a boy, age 4, and a girl, age 3. The father worked in a good job downtown, while the mother stayed at home to take care of the house and the children, who were not yet in school. The family lived comfortably off of the father’s income, but money was tight from time to time when unexpected expenses were incurred for one reason or another. In fact, there were times when the father’s income was not enough, and they were forced to dip into their savings to pay their bills. Unfortunately, that had happened so often over the last three years–ever since their daughter had been born–that they had depleted their entire life’s savings, and were now living paycheck to paycheck.

Then, just as before, it happened. The father got into a car accident on the way home from work. He had to pay $50 (just go with it) to have his car fixed, or the family would lose their sole source of income. But, without any savings, spending that $50 meant that something else would have to go. The father earned $1,000 a month. The family spent $600 on rent, $200 a month on groceries, $100 a month on utilities, $50 on cable television, and $50 on miscellaneous things like gas for the car. The parents looked at their budget and tried to figure out where they could cut the $50.

They decided that they had to pay rent and utilities. They thought about cutting out miscellaneous spending, but realized that the father had to buy gas to get to work, so there wasn’t $50 worth of spending to cut. Finally, they narrowed it down to groceries and cable television. “We have to eat,” said the mother, “Why don’t we cancel the cable? “Because watching TV is important to me,” said the father. “Well, I suppose we could cut back on how many groceries we buy,” said the mother. “Nonsense!” said the father. “I work hard for this family, and I come home hungry. And you work hard around the house, so I’m sure you build up an appetite, too. Let’s just stop feeding one of the children,” he said. “But if we don’t feed a child, they will surely die!” exclaimed the mother. “Besides, how could we ever decide which child would go hungry?” “Well,” said the father, “Perhaps we should feed each of them half of what we normally would.” And so, that is what they decided to do.

By the end of the month, the two children were malnourished and had developed all sorts of ailments. Taking them to the doctor was going to cost far more than $50, but at least the father got to watch TV, and both he and mother were well fed.

The moral of the story? Sometimes acting out of self-interest ends up being more expensive than making a personal sacrifice for the greater good.

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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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