Solveig Torvik

Safely back on these splendid capitalist shores after a driving trip through the moral wilderness of European socialism, I return with a burning question:

How is it that those airy-fairy socialists build better roads than we “can-do” capitalists? Hello?

Three thousand miles of driving — Holland, France and Spain — on rural byways and speedy highways, and nary a pothole nor broken-down pavement in sight.

How can this be? Aren’t these people supposed to be incompetent?

I’m an infrastructure person. Partly because it’s been my lot to report on the unpleasant consequences of infrastructure neglect. Partly because I am old enough to remember when our highways and streets were drivable. They were new, and properly paved, a long, long time ago, before many of those who now drive on them were born. And partly because I have come to see that well-kept roads are one manifestation of a well-governed society.

There are exceptions. Winthrop newly is beautifully paved, thanks to taxpayers who will never roll a tire over Winthrop’s pavement. Yet despite years of hand-wringing, its town council struggles to discharge its paramount duty to provide for public safety with functional policing.

Why, you well may ask, am I fussing about roads when our government is fixing to kill people by denying them health care? Bad roads and collapsing bridges kill people, certainly. Unlike the Republican Party’s health care “reform” effort, though, our roadways were not designed with malice aforethought to kill us.

I know. Intemperate. But how to sugarcoat such barbaric behavior by Republican lawmakers? They themselves have access to the world’s best medical care, partly paid for by some of the very constituents they propose to deprive of access to medical insurance. (Taxpayers pay 72 percent of Congressional lawmakers’ insurance premiums.)

Emulate, avoid

As Republicans recently were scheming to assist wealthy taxpayers tormented by the onerous burden of helping pay for Obamacare, I watched health care being dispensed to my Norwegian family. One cousin handicapped by multiple health issues required a daily medical evaluation and treatment for a potentially dangerous foot infection. That was done at home each morning by a visiting nurse. Recovering from heart surgery, another cousin received two visits at home each day from a health technician trained to administer medication.

Norway’s universal health care system has features to emulate and to avoid, such as inhumanely long waits for treatment. This flaw has given rise to more private medical practices, and increasing numbers of Norwegians opt to pay private providers for more timely care. Nearly every civilized country is scrambling to find more sensible, effective and less-costly ways to deliver health care to its citizens. None are making the cruel mess of it that the Republican Party is making.

The most-recent Republican House and the Senate proposals still will result in roughly 22 million people losing access to medical care, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Medicaid, which protects the poor, is facing the deepest cuts in its 52-year-history. Obamacare, which insures people until they qualify for Medicare, is targeted by Republican lawmakers who have vowed to repeal it, even if they can’t devise a replacement. Masterful governance!

But something unexpected has happened. Some voters who opposed Obamacare now say they favor it, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Even Republican voters said they think government should guarantee health insurance ­ 52 percent of Republicans earning under $30,000 a year and 34 percent of Republicans earning between $30,000 to $75,000, according to the survey.

“I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” Patrick Murphy, owner of Bagel Barrel in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. Perhaps he’s forgotten the barrage of negative TV ads excoriating Obamacare that saturated Bucks County?

Bare bones plans

Obamacare’s most-welcome change is that it requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Republican Tea Party Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas apparently do not approve. They propose that insurance companies be allowed to sell all-but-worthless “bare bones” insurance plans so they can pretend they’re complying with the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions. Lee and Cruz know full well that bare bones plans won’t help patients with serious medical problems.

Yet Lee self-righteously thunders, “Middle class families are being forced to pay billions in higher health care insurance premiums to help those with pre-existing conditions.”

Lee seems to have misunderstood the fundamentals of how insurance pools work — and civil societies as well. I must say it pains me that my devout Utah co-religionists have sent a Mormon with such profoundly blinkered, anti-Christian values to represent them in Congress.

When it comes to affordable health care, we’re all in this together. The bigger the pool of insured people, the cheaper the insurance premium costs for everyone. That’s why lawmakers should be casting the widest possible net to cover everyone, not encouraging segmentation that results in punishing sick people. Sooner or later, nearly all of us will get a pre-existing condition; it’s just “the human condition.”

Burden-sharing — how that Winthrop paving project was paid for — does not weaken societies, nor does it cripple the rich. It stabilizes, and thus strengthens, nations. They don’t thrive if their citizens are being thrown under the bus.

Burden-sharing is a defining mark of civilized nations. But in barbaric ones? Not so much.

Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.