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Health And Virtue

Republican Congressman Roy Blunt thinks it's okay for the federal government to mandate coverage for children with preexisting conditions, but not adults, because those adults have "done nothing to take care of themselves."

This is of a piece with what, as I wrote last month, has become the dominant right-wing view of health care: that it's a matter of personal responsibility. Just as rich people are rich because they work hard (and the poor and poor because they don't), good health is largely attributable to responsible personal behavior, and poor health to sloth. Here's Jim DeMint:

In the closing chapter of “Saving Freedom,” DeMint outlines an action plant that starts with the individual. It encourages every individual to take responsibility for themselves.
“As we look at the health care of our nation, we’ve got to look at our own health care and the health care of family –– what we can do to lower the cost of health care just by taking care of ourselves.

And here's Newt Gingrich:

I think you want to re-establish that the individual has a big responsibility for their own health, because otherwise you can't deal with diabetes and obesity and things that are chronic conditions.

It's obviously true that exercise and a healthy diet can contribute to good health. But it's nuts to see health as entirely or even mostly a function of personal virtue. (Of course, it's not really that much nuttier than seeing wealth as a function of personal virtue.) It's even nuttier to believe that unhealthy people are courting pain and disease because they know other people can pick up the tab for them. You can easily see, though, how conservatives have so seamlessly fit their view of health care into their broader view of economic inequality.