The health care reform issue will apparently be with us until at least the end of the year, at which time it is likely that either a watered-down and largely status quo bill will pass, or, the vapors of the debate will waft into the atmosphere yet again.

As complicated as the issue is portrayed to be, it really is as simple as three things.

First, is the propensity for an entire civilization to engage in thoroughly destructive behavior. Cigarette smoking is practically the sole cause of lung cancer, a major contributor to heart disease and nearly every other respiratory ailment suffered by both smokers and non-smokers alike. Yet, Americans in staggering numbers now spend nearly $6 a pack to suffocate themselves and those around them.

As a society, we drink like fish. Alcohol contributes to heart, liver and kidney failure and is associated with many cancers. It is the single largest contributor to automobile accidents (though cell phone use is rapidly approaching as a leading cause).

We are essentially becoming a society of couch potatoes. Youth obesity is pandemic and the overall impact on the national health is yet to be felt. It is a white elephant lying in the grass. This all while millions are being spent to encourage a less docile lifestyle.

We eat too much, and mostly the wrong things. The case against red meat, salt and processed foods is overwhelming. And all are staples of the American diet.

Second, is the issue of legal tort reform. Recently, even Howard Dean, one of the most vehement proponents of health care reform, acknowledged that the only reason tort reform is not part of the current bill is “that you can’t take on everybody at once.” It is generally conceded that the trial lawyers own the Democratic Party. Certainly, if they don’t own it, they are making installment payments in the form of campaign contributions, lobbying investments and overwhelming political pressure. Without access to medical malpractice dollars, the legal profession would be relegated to the status of mere mortals. One cannot watch television for 10 minutes without being prodded into calling for a free consultation as to whether somebody owes you money as a result of some health problem. Usually it involves smoking, plastic surgery or some other form of wreckless behavior.

Finally, and most visible in the current debate, is the preposterous profits being extorted by health insurance companies. In the current system they are allowed to operate with literal impunity as to rates to charge and claims payments not to make. When any sector becomes the “darling of Wall Street” it’s time to turn on the light and come in out of the dark. United Health Care, rapidly becoming recognized as the most egregious offender of insurance practice ethics, is being touted as “a stock to watch” by nearly every market watch guru preaching today.

So you see, solving the health care issue is as simple as everybody deciding to behave responsibly. OOPS… excuse me while I take this call…

My wife just called and said that some friends are coming over to watch the game Sunday. Could I stop and get chips, dip, a case of Bud Light, a fifth of gin, a jar of olives and, oh, by the way, Frankie is out of cigarettes… a carton of Marlboro’s too…

It would seem that $20 packs of cigarettes, $60 fifths of gin and $40 cases of beer would make a down payment on a single payer health care system, but really that would be just too easy.

John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@

brownwoodbulletin.com.