If they saw Alice's suffering close up, I think that WellPoint executives, Republican members of Congress and conservative pundits would help her.

Alice is one of my Indiana Legal Services clients, who lives alone in a town in eastern Indiana. Several years ago, she was crushed in a gruesome car accident, which left her with injuries severe enough that she was quickly declared fully disabled by the Social Security Administration.

But, like many other Hoosiers with devastating illnesses and injuries, Alice has been told by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration that she does not meet our state's standard for being disabled and thus does not qualify for Medicaid health insurance coverage.

"Alice is poor, and Alice is sick, and Alice is in searing, maddening pain every day. Yet she cannot get the treatment and medicine she needs."
So Alice is poor, and Alice is sick, and Alice is in searing, maddening pain every day. Yet she cannot get the treatment and medicine she needs. Not surprisingly, her psychological health is deteriorating rapidly.

As for the health insurance executives, Republican members of Congress and conservative pundits, how do they respond to Alice? If Alice were their next door neighbor, their aunt or a member of their church, I have every confidence that they would help her.

But these people don't know Alice, and she will never penetrate their government-is-evil echo chamber. So they can all pretend that someone else is going to help her; some program is going to take care of her needs.

Except that's not true. The same people whose ethics and faith would compel them to help her personally are aggressively blocking the one hope for Alice and for all the millions of Alices in the country -- health care reform.

The bills recently passed by the U.S. House and Senate are far from ideal, but they would expand Medicaid coverage to all of our country's poorest citizens. That would be particularly meaningful in Indiana, where we callously deny Medicaid to so many like Alice.
"Those who delight in killing the health care bills can still sleep at night, unburdened with visions of Alice doubled over in agony."
Yet those who delight in killing the health care bills can still sleep at night, unburdened with visions of Alice doubled over in agony.

Social psychologists have a name for this phenomenon: diffusion of responsibility. If enough people are potentially able to respond to another's crisis, the theory goes, we feel we don't have to step up.

This is especially true when we make sure the person in need remains a stranger. We are free to treat health care for the poor as an ideological football instead of a test of our human compassion.

To maintain this illusion, we are careful not to repeat the tactical mistakes of the priest or the Levite in the Good Samaritan parable. We don't walk past the suffering victim and visibly ignore her plea for help.

Instead, we plan in advance a detour around her part of the road. If we don't see the injustice, we can pretend we don't have responsibility to act.

But don't kid yourself. It may feel more innocent to you, but for Alice, it's just the same as if you walked right past her.

Fran Quigley can be reached at quigley2@iupui.edu.