Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post has written an article discussing the “debate” over the future of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Charity Hospital is an institution in New Orleans. It’s no one’s first choice for quality of care, but it’s where you can go if you can’t pay, and they won’t turn you away.
It was damaged by Katrina. It is closed. Patients are being cared for in tents inside the convention center, instead. Now, apparently, Charity Hospital is the subject of a “debate,” presented to us thus:
Some suggest the Charity complex — including the main “Big Charity” hospital, its sister University Hospital, research labs and offices — should be razed. Others demand it be rebuilt. And because any public hospital here — new or old — would be built with federal dollars, every U.S. taxpayer has financial a stake in the fight. (sic)
Let’s talk a little bit about that financial stake. In 2003, taxpayers filed 101,386,201 individual tax returns. The upper-end estimate quoted in the article for completely rebuilding Charity Hospital is $350 million. That comes out to less than $3.50 per taxpayer – and that’s if you ignore all other sources of government revenue (corporate income tax, tariffs, estate taxes, etc.)
What I am concerned about – perhaps this would come as a surprise to Ceci Connolly – what I am concerned about is not how much it might cost me to have Charity Hospital renovated or rebuilt. What I am concerned about is nothing less than the soul of America. What I believe is that every American has a moral stake in making sure that victims of a natural disaster in our country do not suffer and die in tents. I cannot accept that a reporter for the Washington Post thinks we should debate whether 3 and a half dollars from each American taxpayer for a hospital is a good investment. I cannot accept that a reporter for the Washington Post thinks that the only link between the subject of her article and her readers’ lives is the 3 and a half dollars that might come out of their tax bill. Have we Americans now discovered the price we will not pay to keep our soul? $3.50. 3 and a half dollars so that our fellow Americans, who have lost everything, may have medical care.
3 and a half dollars.
Those who read the article I’m referencing will see that it’s not really about the 3 and a half dollars. It’s about whether Charity Hospital should be renovated and repaired, or torn down and rebuilt. Ceci Connolly isn’t really trying to tell us that we shouldn’t spend 3 and a half dollars per taxpayer on health care. She isn’t trying to make any kind of policy recommendation. The quote above was just a throwaway comment – an attempt to link the article’s subject matter to readers who don’t live in New Orleans and don’t have any direct interest in whether Charity Hospital is renovated, rebuilt, or just sits to rot.
That’s part of why I find this throwaway comment so disturbing. It seems that a reporter for a respected mainstream newspaper can’t think of any other reason why her readers would care about Charity Hospital, other than it might cost them 3 and a half dollars. Are we so far gone that it’s just accepted as a general rule that we don’t care about each other, except if there’s money involved?
3 and a half dollars.
Are we so far gone? Are we?