Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care

This afternoon, I went to my doctor's office for my bi-weekly allergy shot, and blood testing. I've put this off because I've been low on funds, and I will have to pay out of pocket. The health insurance that I have through my workplace, to which I contribute about $3,200 a year of my salary, is completely useless. The doctors I really like and trust don't take this insurance. I've estimated that I pay over $1,000 a year out of pocket for my health expenses, besides the salary contribution. And the notion of "applying it to my deductible and then recovering 80%" is a joke. My deductible is $750 a year, and my insurance company was only willing to apply 5 visits of $26 each to my deductible. 5 visits. When I needed them weekly, and now bi-weekly.

Why do I keep this insurance? Because God forbid I end up in a car crash, or some other horrible event occurs, I will need insurance for the hospital. Of course, with a $15,000 lifetime maximum, I might be screwed there too. Insurance companies are greedy, and are willing to forego my health to line their own pockets. Fortunately I am a relatively healthy person (touch wood). I can't imagine how it would be for someone with serious health problems, assuming they could get insured at all--there's all those "pre-existing condition" clauses.

I read in an op-ed piece recently that health care shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right. That sounds like a no-brainer. But the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn't provide health care for its citizens. I MUST work a regular 35-40 hour a week job to have health benefits--I could never pay for them on my own. If I want to break out and work a couple of part time jobs to cover the bills and focus on my writing, I can't do it without foregoing health care. Employers are feeling the pinch, and are increasingly offering jobs with a number of hours just below the required minimum for mandatory health insurance. They need the help, but can't afford to pay the premiums to the insurance companies.

It should be no surprise why I mention all of this, in light of all the controversy surrounding President Obama's universal health care plan. It is agreed that the government can be (OK, is) inefficient, and I'm sure the plan is not without its problems. It's also no surprise that the major insurance companies are pitching a fit about the idea of offering free health care--after all, they stand to lose money. But the mob backlash against lawmakers on this one is at the top of the insanity scale.

Those vocally opposed to Obama's plan call it "socialism", claim the government will set up "death panels" that will decide whether or not the country's citizens, particularly the elderly, will get to live---and imply that we are moving towards the Canadian system of one health plan for all citizens.

With regard to socialism, I'm not sure how it's being defined here. Is any kind of government plan to benefit the lives of citizens "socialism"? I seem to recall reading that FDR had similar issues when he introduced his New Deal. Frankly, I would challenge anyone who considers Obama's plan as "socialist" to give up their Medicare (assuming they're over 65) and their Social Security benefits. After all, those smack of "socialism" too--why "social security" has that word "social" right in it.

With regard to "death panels", we already have those. They're called Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. And they're what most U.S. employers offer, because they're less expensive. Wait til one of these mob protesters with an HMO plan needs a kidney.

But OK--not all of us have catastrophic illnesses. The health care we have now is probably sufficient for most of us, right? Well, a lot of Americans suffer from heart difficulties. Consider this story from a co-worker of mine. Her husband needed heart surgery. She chose a doctor covered by her plan, and made sure everyone slated to assist in the surgery room was covered by her plan. So everything got paid for, right? Wrong. The surgeon called in another doctor to help him during the surgery, who, as it turns out, was not covered by the plan. And guess what? His bill was almost $10,000. It was ruled that the doctor is allowed to call in anyone he chooses to assist him regardless of your health plan--and that the insurance company doesn't have to cover it if they're not "on the list". So, you're screwed for 10 grand unless you can argue your way out of it with the doctor.

I could also tell you the story of dozens of cancer patients who have had to spend countless hours on the phone fighting with insurance companies who refuse to pay huge doctor bills because of some loophole. It's nice to see how profit is more important than the well-being of patients. When I was still married, my ex-husband had developed health issues--I spent hours on the phone for almost 3 YEARS trying to get Cigna to pay all covered costs. It's like psychological torture--they're hoping to just wear you down and make you pay. Many doctors don't want to take health insurance because they don't get paid adequately and are forced to deliver sub-standard care.

However, if you just love our shitty healthcare system, then we need to address the third point--the idea of one American health plan. That's not what's proposed. It would be another alternative. Other health insurance companies would carry on just as before. Obama made a great parallel between that and the U.S. postal service--we now have UPS, FedEx, and DHL. They're all doing just fine. The USPS isn't putting them out of business.

Frankly, as someone who doesn't have a whole lot of expensive health issues, and mainly wants coverage for hospitalization in case of an emergency, I'll take free or low-cost health care. Even if it sucks, it can't be any worse than what I'm paying thousands of dollars for now. And that cost will probably go up, not down.

In reading the accounts of these mobs disrupting senator's "town meetings", I noticed a few things. One is that they all seem to be Republican, which only adds to the image of the 21st century Republican as being like the door-to-door missionary--they don't listen to anything resembling reason, and they just mindlessly reiterate their party line. The geography of these mob scenes is also interesting--mainly the Midwest (places like Missouri) and Western sections of Pennsylvania. If you've been to these places...well, they're not exactly diverse metropolises. Xenophobia is not uncommon. Apparently all they get is Fox News out there.

The ignorant terminology being thrown around is "socialist", even "communist". I thought we were over the Cold War mentality, and that "terrorist" was the new ugly slur against people who differ in opinion, but apparently communist hatred is making a comeback. Not that anyone involved is really a communist, or a terrorist for that matter. The backlash against the unions coming to defend Obama's plan at these meetings, threatening them with physical violence and even death (because we all know unions are really communist, right?) shouldn't even be allowed in a country like ours. Those bashing unions have obviously forgotten that Americans were working 20 hour days for less than 10 cents an hour before unions fought for humane working conditions. Of course, it's doubtful that the protestors are even aware of their own American history--if they are, I haven't seen evidence of it. And I haven't even addressed the racist threats abounding in this whole travesty.

The greatest irony is that those who claim to be standing up for America against "socialism" are doing so by trying to violently oppress opposing points of view, and spreading hateful propaganda about their opponents. That sounds downright totalitarian to me. Whenever I argue with members of my family who espouse heavily Republican views, I remind them that the reason they can espouse their point of view, and I mine, is because we live in America. We're a free country, and have the right to disagree and to be entitled to our beliefs. Do we remember the Bush regime? Anyone who spoke out against the Republicans was accused of being "un-American", and--you guessed it--suspected of being in line with "terrorists".

DeTocqueville said in his work on democracy that the majority has to be eternally vigilant if they don't want to be taken over by a vocal minority. I am not sure why Republicans are so angry or why they feel their "rights" are being trampled. I don't agree with everything Obama does or says, but rebuttals from the Republican corner aren't even remotely related to reality. It's no longer a political party, it's the Jerry Springer Show. I sincerely hope that sensible discussion wins the day over mob lunacy.

I leave you with Jon Stewart's take on the issue:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
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Unknown said...

Well put, Brigid-

Do you know last week in my town there were a bunch of old men protesting in front of the post office of all places against "Obama's socialist health care program"-? Hmm- last time I checked Medicare was government run as are benefits for veterans....
Also at my mom's senior meeting this e-mail was being passed around with all these half truths about the health care system- saying that Medicare was going to be taken away, etc. My mom was freaked out and we directed her to the website www.factcheck.org- a non-partisan website that explains government issues to people- More people need to visit that site...
Unfotunately people seem to associate socialism with the USSR and eastern Europe during the cold war- when that wasn't socialist at all, but dictatorships- People need to look to Sweden and other countries in western Europe- Even in Germany- they say health insurance is not a benefit, but a right... I'm stepping off my soapbox

Brigid N. Burke said...

Hey, Liz--too bad more seniors aren't like your Mom. What's disturbing is that it's all hype and there are very few facts going around. I doubt most of the protesters have even read Obama's proposal.
And a good point about socialism. Does anyone ever wonder why quality of life and overall happiness is better in some of those countries? Still, the U.S. isn't anywhere near socialism, and the charge is absurd.