Remember chickens for checkups?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) made some pretty striking comments at an event in Oklahoma yesterday, most notably about President Obama and race. Greg Sargent has a transcript of the relevant portion and some strong analysis that worth checking out. I’d just say that the senator’s implication that the president intends to “create dependence” on government, because of his background as an “African-American male,” is at best breathtakingly tone-deaf, and at worst, is strikingly racist.

But there was something else that caught my eye in the same report from the Tulsa World.

He went on to say that government programs such as Medicare are primarily responsible for rapidly rising health-care costs, and that Medicare has made the medical system worse.

“You can’t tell me the system is better now than it was before Medicare,” he said.

Coburn agreed that some people received poor care — or no care — before Medicare was enacted in the 1960s, but said communities worked together to make sure most people received needed medical attention.

He also conceded that doctors and hospitals often went unpaid for their efforts, or accepted baked goods or chickens in partial payment.

Yes, “chickens for checkups” is back!

Now, the comments are not an exact quote, and as far as I can tell, there’s no video or audio of Coburn’s remarks. But if the report is accurate, it reflects a rather bizarre worldview.

Coburn thinks the health care system is worse as a result of Medicare? The only way this makes sense is if one takes far-right political philosophy more seriously than medical care for seniors. Indeed, the senator seemed to acknowledge that the elderly went with inadequate care before the program, but said seniors would get by on the kindness of communities.

The idea of neighbors helping neighbors certainly sounds very nice. But when we’re talking about the elderly who can’t afford private care, can’t work and get employer-based insurance, and are asked to get by without Medicare, I’m hard pressed to imagine what Coburn thinks the “community” should do. What if some senior citizens don’t know their neighbors well? What if their neighbors are facing financial difficulties of their own, and can’t afford to chip in for their medical care?

And, of course, I’m especially impressed with Coburn’s idea that medical professionals who treat the elderly should occasionally just go without compensation — or perhaps just accept chickens the way they did in the good ol’ days.

I’d love to hear how many of Coburn’s Republican colleagues agree with his health care worldview. Maybe someone should ask them.