The Weekly Geek: Healthcare Dystopia

With the passing of a healthcare reform bill this week, the whole country is buzzing about how the changes will affect us. The tea-partiers are pissed, the Democrats are happy, and folks with "pre-existing conditions" just did a little leap of joy. But regardless of your political views, there’s one thing we can all celebrate whenever a sweeping social change occurs — science fiction!

Sci-fi blog IO9 has just put together a fantastic list of dystopian narratives that healthcare can help us avoid as a society. Crazy, mutation-inducing plagues? Ridiculous class systems and corporate serfdom a la’ Brazil? We’re clear!

BBC Survivors: One virus, millions dead, a few survivors (one of them gay)

From the post:

The Mutant Plague:

An affluent country in which 30 million people only have access to health care through emergency rooms and a few other sources is a scary situation. When such a huge slice of your population isn’t getting basic screenings and preventive care, it’s like a welcome mat to weird diseases.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture a scenario where a new epidemic sweeps through the uninsured population, gaining too much traction for public health officials to be able to cope with it by the time it reaches the rest of the country. But even if you discount a 28 Days Later/I Am Legend type scenario, it makes basic sense that even people with health insurance are healthier if those who currently lack it get proper treatment.

You know what else healthcare is good for? Preventing "The vanishing middle class, as society splits into the rulers and the undercity."

It’s a staple of dystopian science fiction  the world divided into the privileged few, who live high above the smog belt in their shiny penthouses, and the downtrodden rabble, who live in the streets below. Usually there are sewer mutants too.

And a world in which fewer and fewer people can afford decent health coverage, because insurance is getting more and more expensive and selective, is a big piece of that dystopia. So is a world where people are driven into bankruptcy and lose their homes because of catastrophic health care expenses. And a world where health insurance companies are making billions in profits, based on their ability to avoid providing care, is definitely one in which a few lucky people are ascending into the evil penthouses.

Still, we should probably make sure we don’t turn into a Totalitarian state. Big Brother is no fun, after all.

In seriousness, science fiction is — and always has been — one of the best mediums for social commentary in the world. That the imagery from 1984 and Brave New World and, frankly, the entire zombie genre are so iconic speaks to the power of "speculative fiction." It’s also pretty darned geeky.