Wisdom From The Romans For 2010

Nancy Turnbull, Associate Dean for Educational Programs at the Harvard School of Public Health, discovers that the Romans, surprisingly, have a lot to say about modern-day health care reform:

I spent some time during my holiday break helping my 11-year-old daughter with a social studies project on ancient Roman civilization. Besides learning a lot about papyrus (and being reminded how little I remember from my three years of middle school Latin), this experience made me realize that many Latin phrases and mottos are quite salient and useful for commenting on health care and health reform today.

Here are ten ideas about how Latin might be a new and more interesting way for us to talk about some current health care issues:

Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus (Mountains will be in labor, and a ridiculous mouse will be born): Let’s hope this will not be appropriate to describe the end result of efforts to reform provider payment in Massachusetts…but we shall see…

Conlige suspectos semper habitos (Round up the usual suspects): If payment reform produces a mouse, good advice to those seeking to understand what happened.

Primum non nocere (First do no harm): Could be a useful motto or slogan in lobbying Congress not to undermine the Massachusetts’ health reform law in national reform.

Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem (It is not goodness to be better than the worst) Applicable in so many contexts: as a way to respond to those who claim that quality of health care in Massachusetts is high….or as a commentary on the Bridge program for legal immigrants eliminated from Commonwealth Care.

Durate et vosmet rebus servate secundis (Carry on and preserve yourselves for better times): Expression of sympathy and solace to advocates and state officials dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis

De asini vmbra disceptare (To argue about the shadow of an ass): A response to those who claim that mandated benefits are a major reason that health insurance is so expensive

Obscurum per obscurius (The obscure through the more obscure): An appropriate assessment of the argument that small group purchasing cooperatives are different from association health plans, and that they would reduce health insurance costs for small employers

Nudus Sit Aeger (Let the buyer go bare): A much catchier phrase than “consumer-driven health care” to describe the trend to more and more consumer cost-sharing in health insurance products

Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus (Never tickle a sleeping dragon): Could be used as a secret oath whispered by providers when they talk among government getting more involved in overseeing health care prices. (Give yourself extra points if you knew this was the motto of Hogwarts!)

Contraria contrariis curantur (The opposite is cured with the opposite): What to whisper back about the best antidote to two decades of deregulation and market competition in health care.

Ad multos annos (To many good years). Happy 2010!

This program aired on January 6, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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