A man comes into a clinic, limping badly.
"I hurt my foot. I need to see a doctor, quick!"
"My stupid donkey smashed my foot into the wall."
"Well, I accidently beat him to get going, but he wouldn't."
"Turns out there was something blocking the road"
"Didn't you see that the way was blocked?"
"Well, no. Not right away."
"So the donkey saw it was blocked, but you didn't?"
"Um….yeah, I suppose so"
"Your insurance won't cover this."
"You only have accident insurance, and this was clearly no accident. You could have prevented this whole injury if you were paying attention. Try the clinic down the street. Goodbye."
Balaam smashed his foot and a light bulb went off.
In the story of Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22), Balaam has been asked to go with King Balak of Moab, and help him win against the Israelites by cursing them. Apparently, Balaam, a non-Israelite, is one fine curser, and whoever he curses, stays cursed. Of course, whoever Balaam blesses stays blessed, too, but Balak is banking on the cursing.
God doesn't want Balaam, to go do this, but Balaam takes the job anyway, after getting the king to pay very well. In fact, the price kept going up until Balaam agreed. On the way, suddenly, Balaam's trusty donkey comes to a dead stop. Each time Balaam tries to get the animal moving again, it smashes his foot into the wall. Finally, Balaam gets down off the donkey, beats it until the donkey cries out: "Knock it off! Have I ever acted like this before? Get a grip, take a look and stop beating me!" (or words to that effect.)
Balaam finally looks up and sees what the donkey sees: an angel is blocking the road. She's been trying to get his attention with a message from God: speak the truth, speak only the truth, even if Balak is paying you to say something else.
This is one of the core problems we have in dealing with our health care system. The answers are there, but there are so many conflicting interests that progress is virtually at a standstill, and the least able to help themselves are getting their "feet smashed against the wall."
Truth #1: Preventing illnesses costs less than curing or healing them. The CDC says chronic diseases-heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes-are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the U.S., and are the leading causes of death and disability. These kinds of chronic diseases account for 70% of all deaths in America.
Truth #2: To fix this thing, it's going to hurt everyone a little, but ultimately help everyone a lot.
Insurance companies reward over-testing by doctors; doctors fear legal action, so they order all those tests. Basic health care isn't accessible because insurance isn't available or prohibitively expensive to the un/under employed, and increasingly expensive to the employers who have to provide the insurance to keep their employees. The un/under employed use expensive ERs as primary care centers, and at least two generations of adults in this country have gotten so hooked on "give me a pill or some surgery to fix it now" medicine that individual responsibility has gone out the window. The basic health care that's available to some who can afford it is absolutely out of reach to others, so keeping or getting entire populations healthy is more and more expensive.
Our scientists produce brilliant, life-saving medications, but frankly, no matter how great a new medicine is, it's cheaper to prevent the disease in the first place.
Balaam finally got the message that beating the donkey won't help. Opening our eyes and speaking truth to power just might.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.