The Public Option

Yes, it’s another health care bit.  If you’re not in the mood, I certainly can’t say I blame you.  If you’re dead set against health care reform, you might want to give this a miss.  Also?  It’s difficult for me to not think of you as incredibly selfish.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Just so it’s clear where I stand on this issue, I’m all for health care reform and having a public option.  I think everyone should have access to health care regardless of whether or not they can afford it, and they certainly should if they live in the wealthiest country in the world.  I believe that people should be able to go to the doctor without having to worry about whether or not they can afford it, and I believe people shouldn’t have to worry about bankruptcy when surgery suddenly becomes necessary.

There are a lot of people who disagree with me, which is something I’ve been used to for a long time now.  What surprises me – and this is really the reason I’m bothering to write about something I’m sick and tired of hearing about – is how many people I personally know, who are opposed to health care reform.  These are good, intelligent people, who I love and respect.  And while there have always been disagreements between me and these people, the disagreements have always seemed…small.  This health care thing is different though.  I can’t seem to detach myself from this and I take opposition to having a public option personally, even though I know I shouldn’t.

The health care I have is, by any standard you care to measure it by, not very good.  But it’s 100% better than the health care my wife has, which is my singularly adorable way of saying she doesn’t have any.  My wife is 38 years old and she doesn’t have any health care whatsoever.  She hasn’t been to the doctor in over three years.  This is something that worries me and sits in the back of my mind every single day (and has done for over two years now).  I work full time as a network administrator, which sounds great, but it isn’t.  The pay is only decent and the benefits suck.  I have no sick pay, no vacation pay, and the health care is a joke.  To help make ends meet, I do occasional consulting on the side.  And then there’s the bakery that my wife and I own.  We’ve been in business for two years now and the last year has been crippling thanks to the economy.  The bakery isn’t bringing in any real money yet, as new businesses tend not to do.  The income I bring in from consulting is sporadic, and isn’t something I can count on.  That means I have to support my wife and I on the salary I earn from my network admin job.  My take-home pay from that job simply doesn’t pay our bills.  My mortgage payment alone is 56% of my take-home pay.  By the time you factor in utilities, auto insurance and gas, I have about five bucks left with which to not purchase groceries or hair cuts or, you know, health insurance for my wife.  Again, I do have other income, but it’s sporadic, and the bottom line is, there just isn’t a whole lot left over at the end of the month and I’m certainly not putting anything into savings.  Two years ago I tried to put her on the shitty health plan I have through my job and they told me that would cost approximately $425 a month, which is equivalent to an 18% cut in pay.  I can’t afford a 1% cut in pay, $425 may as well be a million.

So, that’s our situation.  And when you tell me that you don’t want the government interfering in our health care, what I’m hearing you say is you’re okay with the fact that my wife doesn’t have health insurance.  I realize that isn’t actually what you’re saying, but it’s what I’m hearing and it’s impossible not to take that personally.  And what makes it even more frustrating is that so many of these friends or family members of mine would give me the shirt off their back if I needed it.  I know they love me and I know they’d do anything to help.  Anything but support affordable health care, apparently.  It’s infuriating.

Believe it or not, there’s a reason I’m writing all this down in such a public forum.  I realize that what I’ve just told you are my intensely personal reasons for supporting health care reform.  But the thing is, I don’t think anything about what I’ve just told you is unique.  There seems to be an absurd notion in this country that people without health insurance are either justifiably poor or somehow don’t want it.  That’s just impossibly stupid, and given how bad the economy is, it’s easy to believe that there are hundreds of thousands of people in a situation not too different from my own.

America made a huge mistake when we put health care into the hands of the insurance companies.  The reason that was a mistake is because the insurance companies, like all corporations, are in business to make money.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  My wife and I are in business to make money and the more we make, the happier we are.  But we’re in the goddamn cake business.  If we try to make a couple extra bucks, no one suffers a loss of quality of life, no one dies.  The insurance companies are making a lot of money by selling (and sometimes denying) health care to people, and they want it to stay that way, and that’s easy enough to understand.  So in order to keep the status quo, they spend a fortune on lobbyists and they buy as much political influence as they can get away with.  And that is perhaps the main reason so many politicians have spoken out against health care reform:  To preserve the status quo and to prevent the loss of revenue that would surely occur should real health care reform actually happen.

And the unfortunate thing about politicians is that a) people actually listen to them and take them seriously, and b) they turn everything they touch into a political issue.  Again, the basic issue here is that there are people in this country who need affordable health care and who don’t have it.  Helping people in need shouldn’t be a political issue.  In fact, it isn’t a political issue, regardless of what anyone tells you.  It’s a human issue.  It’s a matter of right vs. wrong, not right vs. left.  And that’s bad, because pretty much everyone I know is really good with the whole right and wrong thing, and if left to their own devices they’ll do what’s right just about 100% of the time.  But politics fucks everything up.  When issues become political, perspectives get distorted, priorities shift, facts get ignored, and information gets surrounded with, or sometimes even replaced by, misinformation.  And all of a sudden, people who would do the right thing ten times out of ten, are saying the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard and are acting like the most selfish, thoughtless, and apathetic bastards alive.

I hear people say they don’t want health care reform because they’re afraid our country is becoming too socialist.  That same argument was used by people who were opposed to Medicare and Medicaid and yet, not only are those two programs good examples of practical, working socialism, but after instituting those programs, this country went on to deregulate various markets and arguably became more capitalist than ever.  Also?  There’s nothing wrong with socialism, goddammit.  Or any of the other -isms for that matter.  Concepts can’t be good or bad, it’s people who fuck things up.

I hear other people claim they’re happy with their health insurance and that they don’t want the government to take it away.  President Obama has said this dozens of times so I don’t expect repeating it will do any good but:  YOU AREN’T GOING TO LOSE YOUR FUCKING INSURANCE.  It’s called a public option.  As in optional.  No one will require you to have shitty, government-run health care.

I hear some people express concern about death panels, although to be fair, I’ve only heard that concern expressed on television.  That’s because I don’t allow people that fucking stupid anywhere near me.

Mostly though, I hear people express concern about the potential cost of the proposed changes.  And you know what?  That worries me too.  But you know what else?  It’s just a concern, and one we can work with.  I’m not an economist, I don’t even have a half-assed idea for dealing with the financial cost but as unsure as I am of how we’ll afford it, I’m equally sure that we can.

At this point, the likelihood of having a public option is pretty grim, but I’m holding out hope.  I’m not asking for miracles.  In fact, all I’m asking for is health care as shitty as mine for a price that people can afford.  I’m not even asking that health care be taken out of the hands of the insurance companies (which is a very reasonable request, by the way).  I’m just asking for an alternative.  And if that means the health insurance companies wind up losing some money?  I’m alright with that.

Because health care shouldn’t be for profit.