Personal Responsibility, Freedom, Wants vs. Needs, and Universal Healthcare

Little Johnny was 12 years old and very excited.  He and his twin brother were going to visit their aunt in Orlando.  This meant Disney World!  Of course, there was a catch.  The family had fallen on hard times, so if the boys wanted to go to Disney, they had to earn the ticket money.

This was a huge opportunity for Little Johnny.  He had three months to prepare and he needed to save $200 to cover everything – the two-day pass (he really wanted to go to all of the parks), the food, and all of the other little treats that are available at Disney.  Little Johnny got $10 a week allowance, and he already had $30 in the piggy bank, so he knew he had to earn an extra $50.  Three months to earn $50 bucks – no big deal for Little Johnny.  He was going to Disney World!

Little Johnny started right away.  He asked the neighbors if they needed any extra yard-work or chores done.  He raked Mrs. Smith’s leaves and got $10.  He dog-sat for Mr. Jones and got $20.  Best of all, he set up a lemonade stand and made $40!  Before he knew it, he had overshot his goal and had $220!  Little Johnny was laser focused and now he could even afford the Disney t-shirt he wanted.

The big day came.  Little Johnny, his brother and his aunt were going to Disney.   However, things didn’t work out as planned for Little Johnny.  At the pay window, it was discovered that his twin brother only had $10.  Now there was a big problem!  His aunt didn’t have any extra money because of the hard times, and because of their ages, the aunt had to be with both of them.

“What happened to your money?” Little Johnny asked his brother.  “You got the same allowance I did, which is enough for a two-day pass.  Where did it go?”  His brother just shrugged.  Little Johnny knew where it went.  His brother was sporting some cool new shoes and some tunes on his iPod.  Little Johnny knew his brother had not earned any extra money for the food and the treats, but he was floored that he spent his allowance money on “stuff” instead of Disney.

The Aunt spoke up.  “Since we have to stay together, and we don’t have enough money to all go for two days, we can either all go back home and just hang out there, or, Little Johnny, you can pay for a one day pass for you and a one day pass for your brother.”

This was just about more than Little Johnny could handle!  His dream of Disney just got crushed.  Even if he went he would be thinking about all of the things he was missing, all the while watching his brother have a great time.  Just then, Little Johnny saw a group of special needs kids coming into the park with a few volunteers.

Little Johnny turned to his aunt and said,  “Let’s go home.”  Little Johnny then walked over to one of the volunteers with the special needs kids.  “Here is $100. Please treat these kids to something special at Disney.”

This story sums up what I FEEL about the proposed Universal Healthcare that we will all be asked to pay for in taxes.  Those with real needs and no ability to pay, no problem, have fun at Disney – on me.  But everyone else who “can’t” pay, I want to define what “can’t” pay means before I start giving you a “free pass to Disney.”

Wants vs. Needs

This is where I start to get a little edgy.  I am a big believer in personal responsibility and freedom.  In fact, I think you should have so much freedom that you get the right to make stupid choices, but you also get the consequences of those choices.  I really start to get mad when your stupid choices keep me out of Disney World.

For me, it really comes down to Wants vs. Needs.  Our country has gotten this concept really screwed up.  Let me clear this up for you:
Needs are things that are “must have,” i.e., food, shelter, clothing, medical care, transportation to work and school.

Wants are things that make life better or easier beyond the basic need.

Food = Need,
Fast Food, Ding Dongs, Eating Out = Want
Clothing = Need
Designer clothing, more than a few pairs of shoes, shirts, etc. = Want
Water = Need
Beer, cigarettes, etc. = Want
Cell phone, cable TV, going to the movies, iPod = WANT
Basic transportation to get to work = Need
Transportation that costs more than $3000 = Want

Since I believe in personal responsibility, freedom, and every American’s obligation to provide for themselves and their family when at all possible, it is clear to me that you take care of your NEEDS first — and medical care is a need, in my book.  After you have taken care of your needs – then go ahead and get  cable, an iPod, a cell phone, a $500 car payment.  After you take care of your NEEDS then you can go clubbing, buy all the beer you want, smoke cigarettes, and eat Ding Dongs all day long.

Bottom line is if you are seriously incapacitated and you can’t even take care of your basic needs, then I want to help as I believe every American wants to help.  But what I am sick and tired of, and what I believe most Americans are sick and tired of, is overhearing the “poor little ol’ me” stories from the table next to you at the Olive Garden when their entire family is sporting cell phones and iPods.  And then of course you watch them leave and they drive away in a car nicer than yours!

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27 Comments on “Personal Responsibility, Freedom, Wants vs. Needs, and Universal Healthcare”

  1. Kim Says:

    This is oh so true! Our country wouldn’t have the financial issues it has if everyone would just live like this! Of course the makers of the ipods and fancy shoes might need a second job then! lol

  2. J Golden Says:

    This is quite possibly the most odd commentary on universal health care that I have ever seen. It appears to rely on the argument that there are people who deserve good health care, because they’ve been thrifty and responsible, and people who don’t really deserve good health care, because they’ve been wasteful and lazy. Among my many problems with this argument, I’d have to say the most critical would be making judgments about who is “wasteful and lazy” based on appearances.

    Let’s look at that Olive Garden restaurant scene in a different light, shall we? Say we’ve got a mom, a dad and two kids, all with iPods and cell phones. For a long time, both mom and dad worked. They saved for retirement, paid their bills and were still able to give the kids an allowance and nice gifts. They bought a “family plan” that gave them all free cell phones with a monthly contract that was far cheaper than “land line,” which they then disconnected.

    When Mom and Dad both lost their jobs, they sat down and figured out it would be cheaper to sell their older cars and lease one newer, more fuel efficient car, which would require fewer repairs. Mom and Dad share the vehicle in their respective job searches.

    And on the evening you saw them, the family was enjoying a restaurant dinner, because everything they owned was in a moving van. They were taking advantage of the restaurant’s “all you can eat” pasta special, which I can attest is a pretty good deal.

    We either look at people in the most critical and judgmental light, or the most charitable light. I am surprised to see the former attitude expressed here. I choose the latter, because I think we should try not to judge others unless we have first learned why they are where they are. The idea that someone should be denied decent basic health care on the basis of whether he or she is responsible with money is simply absurd. Because if we’re basing this on whether people spend their money wastefully on things they really can’t afford, then everyone who has ever bought something on credit ought not to be insured at all.

    • Tom Ziglar Says:


      Thanks for your comments. Of course, the Little Johnny story is just that, a story, and the Olive Garden example is just that, an example. I am not a believer in passing judgment on appearances alone, but rather on all of the facts, and especially on behaviors.

      I am concerned that the government is going to tell us what type of lifestyle we can live in order to help pay for the universal healthcare coverage they want to provide. I think they will try and limit fast food restaurants, the type of cooking oil that is used, where you can smoke, and even what kind of food your kids will eat. (Of course, they are already doing these things – so what is the next step? Taking your kids away because they are too heavy, or not allowing you to smoke in your own house?).

      The point I am driving home is that we need to take personal responsibility for our own lives. The more gov’t “does” for us, the less freedom we will have. Those truly in need, we need to help. People that choose what they WANT, rather than paying for what they NEED first, knowing “the government” will cover their necessities, are what concern me.

      Maybe a better way to look at is this way – What if a govt program came out and said – Pay in $500 a month for your healthcare, and we will give you $1000 dollars a month that you can use towards cable tv of your choice, fast food, designer clothes, cell phones, etc. Now, that would be a stimulus plan!

      Of course, this is absurd – it is crazy for the govt to pay for non-essential things for people. But isn’t that what we are doing when people choose to pay for non-essential things before they pay for their own healthcare and they get the healthcare anyway?

    • Eric Napier Says:

      J Golden,

      I want to take exception to one thing you said. You contend that, “The idea that someone should be denied decent basic health care on the basis of whether he or she is responsible with money is simply absurd.”

      Of course you’re right. But neither Tom, nor I advocate denying healthcare to anyone. Or food, shelter, clothes, BMWs, etc. We just don’t want to be forced to pay for it.

      I want you and everyone else to have the freedom to peaceably acquire whatever healthcare (or other resources) you want. But government administered healthcare is anything but peaceable. It relies on the threat of force to take money from some people and provide a resource (healthcare) to other people who otherwise can’t afford it.

      Again, don’t mistake our resistance to government coercion for a ‘denial of basic health care.’ No one’s denying anyone healthcare. We just don’t want to be force to pay for it.

      • Doug Says:

        “We just don’t want to be forced to pay for it.”

        “No one’s denying anyone healthcare. We just don’t want to be force to pay for it.”

        Is this the fatal flaw in the American Dream? All for one and if anyone else can’t get their share too bad for them? Makes for a rather cruel society in my eyes. The good news is most Americans feel otherwise. There is hope.

    • Sara Lamberto Says:

      I agree with not judging others, what I do have a problem with is those who do not put the health of their family one of their top priorities and then expect me to foot the bill. I give freely of my time and resources and do not need the government to “force” me to do it. Government run programs are the most inefficient kind so if we are truly interested in helping people we should leave the government out of it.

  3. JR Nuerge Says:

    I totally agree with Tom and Kim. I have worked hard all my life in order to reap the rewards and have seen America become a “nanny” state. Politicians have sold the people a bill of goods so they can get elected and in doing so have killed initiative and responsibility. The only way to get it back is to make people pay the consequences for their actions.
    JR Nuerge

  4. AJ Buerer Says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your well balanced statement of the truth. Not “balanced” in the way the media uses the word, but truly giving relevant issues their appropriate weight. You speak the truth in love, neither pulling any punches nor overstating your points to get a cheap “win.” Your incredible honesty, clarity, and insight about political and societal movements is rarely matched by anyone else I hear or read, especially in your explanation of the inherent moral implications.

    AJ Buerer

    P.S. Much of what you say about the reality of truth reminds me of the points that Frank Peretti made in his _Veritas Project_ series.

    • AJ Buerer Says:


      Just to be clear, I was not responding only to this post but to your blog overall, especially the political and social posts. It’s very good.


    • Tom Ziglar Says:

      Thanks AJ – I appreciate your kind words. I try to be open, and understanding of everyone’s views, even if I don’t agree with them. Like Oswald Chambers says, “we are responsible to share the truth, but we are not responsible for how people handle it.”

  5. somewhere in the middle Says:

    I think both sides have a point, we do typically judge others by outward appearances and those are not always what they seem. However…I’ve been a single mom in the past making 12-15k a year. I’m now remarried and we own our own business, we have never taken a line of credit for this business which means everything goes back into the business or keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table-4 kids at 40k a year. we don’t have nice cars but we feel God has blessed us and our needs are met…except for healthcare. I am on medication for life that I pay out of pocket for and forget the nuclear scan to see if cancer is back…we can’t do it.
    We don’t get or ask for public assistance by the way…we just do the best we can to raise our kids to be self-sufficient when they get out on their own, and stay above float during these economic times…

    • Tom Ziglar Says:

      Somewhere in the middle – Perfect – I love your post. Exactly where the discussion should revolve around. Why are healthcare costs so high? Every time I try and answer that question, I get 50 different answers. I am hoping others who post will have some ideas on how you can get what you need. I am also concerned about the men and women who serve our country in the military and have substandard healthcare for their families. Thanks for your post.

  6. anita Says:

    Well said, thanks! I think we could all stand to re-examine what an acceptable standard of living has come to mean.

  7. Zig, Tom, Kim, I would also agree with you to a point. True, those whinners, and leaches that could very well afford decent health care, should not be given a free ride. However, the rising cost of health care is out the window and on the way to the stars.
    Hospital bills include everything in the room, to include “dust”. You are charged for the entire box of what ever it is even if you are only given one. Hospital accounting is the biggest rip-off in the medical industry. Someone with a big heavy hand has got to put this under control. Look at the media today. Doctors and medical facilities, along with drug manufacturers are scared and running adds like crazy against a new health plan. I don’t believe it should thought, that because you are elderly, and unable to pay for health care, because social security and retirement plans wre not calculated correctly, that they should be hearded to the gas chamber and done away with. Which, is where some aristocratic minds seem to dwell.

    • Tom Ziglar Says:

      Raymond – Right on! I think everyone has heard the stories of paying $10 for a single aspirin. I heard about a lady who checked her bill and was charged $20 for a “mucous removal system”. When she challenged it because she didn’t know what it was, she discovered it was for Kleenex!

      So we need reform from hospital administration, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. Why is it that there is such obvious price gauging?

      I don’t know the whole answer to this, but I can tell you what my college room-mate told me. He is a doctor. The government mandates what he can make on certain procedures by those covered by government insurance. He looses money on these, so he has to charge more to those on private insurance. He is an ENT Doctor, and he was loosing so much money that he now specialize in Plastic Surgery! He now gets paid in cash. What a shame the community has lost a doctor with 10 years of training in delicate life saving procedures to Lipo-Suction. In fact, if he only practiced on people with govt coverage, he wouldn’t be able to afford his Malpractice Insurance.

      You are right on about needing to fix the crazy costs. I think insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, the government, and lawyers have all had a hand in driving prices up. Any ideas?

      And you bring up another point – the government has royally screwed up social security, so much so that anybody under 65 is pretty much STUPID if they believe the government is going to be able to keep their promises. Being 44 and realizing that Social Security will not be there for me, I am hard pressed to give the government ANY control over my healthcare the way the have managed my retirement (and yours).

  8. Tom,

    I agree with you. I am about to turn 56 in September and am a Vietnam Vet. I have worked since I was 15. In my last job I was a manager of an Ace Hardware store and worked on average 60 hours a week. I had to stop working because I almost had a heart attack lifting bags of concrete. Through the VA I found that I had heart problems and needed stents. They could not finish all the stents because they found I was in Stage 4 Kidney Failure. I am not allowed to work now, and draw a 40% disability ($600 per month). My wife and I have learned to take care of our NEEDS and if there is anything left a few small WANTS. You would be suprised at how much you can actually do without when you have to. I get the disability due to these problems being ‘service connected’ and it is not what I would concider a Government handout. I decided a long time ago not to take government assistance unless I had no other choice. It seems like way too many people are lining up to get the ‘freebies’ given to them. Eventually there won’t be enough people working and paying taxes to continue giving out the freebies and those people will be in a lot of trouble. You used the ‘Little Johnny’ story, but the story of the ants (I believe it was ants) where one stored up for the long winter and the other played would be a good analogy also. Love the blogs. Follow on Twitter also. Have seen Zig in person a few times over the years. He is a great man and very inspiring. Hope he is doing well.

    God Bless!

    • Tom Ziglar Says:

      Dwight – First I want to thank you for your service to our country. Welcome Home. I appreciate your level of personal responsibility – I have a lot of growing to do to catch up to you! When I look at your sacrifice and the services that you have earned but don’t receive it really gets me fired up. As Americans we can do better than this for you and for so many like you. Thank you for your post, I am hoping it will inspire others to put in some creative ideas to address the healthcare crisis we are in.

  9. Jerome Says:

    Many people think that because they live in America, they shouldn’t have any bad experiences.

    I am so sick of this!

    Welcome to the real world people. I am sorry, sometimes we have tough goes of it. In other situations, we have some great moments.

    Save up the nuts from the good times of summer or you will starve in the bad times of winter.

  10. Tom –

    Thanks for a very well-written post that expresses the complications of this issue. I must say that I tend to agree with you on the major points. Ignoring the challenges of the healthcare system itself, the catch is figuring out exactly who needs help and who could get by with better choices. And with imperfect information, do we err to the side of helping more, knowing that some that don’t really need help will get it? Or do we err to the side of helping less and risk leaving out some folks that really do need help? I don’t like the former, but I would really hope to avoid the latter.

  11. Debobar Says:

    I have to agree with the blog. This nation, thanks to the government has an “entitlement” mentality! IMO, it’s THE church’s job to take care of the truly needy – not the government – playing Robin Hood.

    I was a mananger for one of the largest healthcare (group insurance) organizations for many years, who provided employees above average pay and excellent healthcare benefits. I had an employee (who had a child) turn in her notice. She was a single, caucasion girl in her mid-twenties who had potential, but not focused and bragged alot about partying… She said she was tired of trying to make production. She actually told me that she figured out that she could make more money going to school on a Pell Grant, drawing a Welfare check, and getting Medicaid coverage than she could working!

    Yes, I’m FIRED UP in Frisco, TX!!!

  12. Doug Says:

    I live in Canada. We have “universal” healthcare. It is not free. We pay for it with monthly premiums, payroll taxes and with our income taxes. It is not a very good system but I think it is considerably better than the US system.

    The problem in the US in my layman’s opinion is not just the cost of healthcare. The problem in the US is access to healthcare. If you have good insurance you have access. If not, and unless you are in perfect health, you can’t buy insurance and you can’t afford healthcare without it even if you are as careful as Little Johnny.

    In Canada, everyone gets basic healthcare even if they are sick. In the US, you better not be sick or you won’t get any insurance (unless your employer has a group plan with no pre-qualification clauses) and you better not get sick because you will lose your insurance.

    An oft repeated argument against universal healthcare is the concern about having a bureaucrat between the patient and the doctor. Well, under the existing system there is an HMO or insurance company manager between the patient and the doctor and that manager has a vested interest to make money even at the expense of the patient’s health. How could a bureaucrat make things worse?

    In Canada, there is no one between the doctor and the patient. In our system doctors’ decisions rule.

    In Canada the per capita cost of healthcare is significantly lower than in the US even though it is overseen by government bureaucrats.

    Yes, we have wait-times for some surgeries and we lack sufficient funds to always have the latest technology. Many Americans face the same issues.

    We have a crummy system in Canada. We’re trying to make it better without breaking the bank. We spend way too much money on healthcare and will need to make tough decisions. The problem isn’t just waste (though waste is a big issue). One of the problems is we can keep people alive with technology and drugs that are crazy expensive and we don’t know how or where to draw a line.

    I’m frustrated by all the misinformation and false information out there about the Canadian system and about what universal healthcare will mean to Americans. People deserve to be looked after when they are sick. Seems to me that the discussion should start there and work its way up.


  13. Chris Jean Says:

    Great post Tom. I’m completely with you. I believe this entire universal healthcare debate is nothing more than a diversion from many of the real problems:

    – Why does healthcare cost so much?
    – How can we lower the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors?
    – How can we reform our legal system to not legally require expensive and often-times unnecessary procedures/tests?
    – How do we ensure that medication is affordable?
    – How can we make going to affordable local clinics a more attractive option than going to the hospital for non-emergency healhcare needs?

    If we move forward with a government-run universal healthcare initiative, yet still have all of these issues, how can we afford to keep it going?

    If the answer to that question is that the government will identify and fix these problems once they offer universal healthcare, I have to wonder why we can’t identify these issues, take care of them, and make healthcare affordable to the masses now. At such a time, we would then just have to find out how to take care of edge-cases, such as families/individuals that have their entire savings/future destroyed by sudden, debilitating illness.

    • Tom Ziglar Says:

      Chris – Perfect! Little Johnny would be proud. Our healthcare issues are like a bucket with holes in it. You can paint the bucket (a new govt run system) or fix the holes – You pointed out many of the holes! Fix the holes first otherwise the paint won’t matter!

  14. Jacob Says:

    Yeah, people lose their jobs. Some people don’t get healthcare because they have to pay TONS of money for something they will only use a couple of times. Then when something happens they can’t get a surgery or pay for both fingers to be sewn back on – I don’t think that’s okay. I give away a large portion of my paycheck to a business that won’t do what I pay them for half the time.I’m okay with taking care of people, even if they aren’t smart with their money.

    Health care isn’t Disney World in this scenerio. Health Care is the $15 bottle of water that just went up to $20 when the temperature raised to an unbearable heat. And the three are all out of money. And little miss Aunty there is about to pass out from exhaustion and the Disney World vendors won’t help her out with a little water.

  15. Jerome Says:

    @Jacob, I guarantee you someone would help in that situation… and it would most likely be anyone who sees the woman is in trouble. But, what if that lady ran around ignoring the fact that she needed water and instead of buying a water bought mickey mouse ears? Which is what the argument against universal health care is.

    Why should I, a healthy individual who takes care of himself, have to pay for someone’s drug/alcohol/over-eating habit?

  16. There ought to be some value or upside to acknowledging mistakes, and taking responsibility for our actions; otherwise, folks might not be highly motivated to do so. Responsibility is more than an abstract concept.

  17. Karyn Says:

    In a recent commentary on provisions for the poor, I, too, wrote a parable for readers to consider. It follows a discussion of 1Thessalonians 5:14-15. It can be found here:

    I agree with your post and appreciate your boldness.

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