The other day I felt sympathy for health insurers.
This almost never happens. Far more often, I fall into the trap of blaming them for all the brokenness in the U.S. healthcare system. Insurers and I have a history, and it isn’t pretty.
Then I started helping a loved one select a health plan. This person has pre-existing conditions, requiring treatment options that—even though well established in the medical community—some insurers have apparently never heard of, let alone cover.
At one point in the process, the old rage began to boil up in me. Suddenly, who knows why, my mind flashed on all the challenges the insurers face: paying for millions of expensive tests and procedures for millions of people with a pot of money that, however large, is also finite. Perhaps this was more about a broken system than about one corrupt player, or set of players, in that system.
To be sure, health insurers must bear some responsibility for the system’s vicious cycle. But many others contribute as well: doctors who order tests to avoid malpractice suits, lawyers who push for extravagant awards, pharmaceutical companies whose necessarily high-risk research pushes drug prices higher, all of us just for living longer and needing more of these tests and procedures. None of these parties is necessarily evil, or maybe even blameworthy. More to the point, we’re all caught in this system that no longer works on a grand scale. We all do what we can to make our corner of it work. Sometimes we do this for noble purposes—for the benefit of others.
Why do I bring this up now? As a cautionary tale.
We can commit our whole lives to dialogue. We can prepare our souls to be people of reconciliation, of peace, of reaching across divides. But the slings and arrows of life’s outrageous fortune keep on coming. We get wounded along the way. It is so easy, no matter who we are, to react with anger and bitterness and recrimination.
That can be a good thing. Some systems, organizations, and people are thoroughly corrupt, and justice demands that we stand up to them in anger. But I think it’s important that we pay close attention to the slings and arrows and take away all the lessons they hold. In my case, this meant pushing through “the evil insurance companies denied me coverage” to the reasons behind denials like this, and the ways we can reform the system so people have access to the coverage they truly need. Often, when we go through this process, the reality of these lessons gives us a larger perspective—one that avoids the simplistic trap of blaming a single scapegoat.
What do you think? Am I being too soft on health insurers? Have you ever scapegoated someone or something when the issue turned out to be much deeper than that? How did you find your way through it?