The Health Care Debate: Fighting for the Right to be Sick. Or Dead.   3 comments

November 30, 2011

Fighting Against Health Care. Exactly How Stupid Are We?

I have a friend named Steve, married to Diane.  Steve is one of the people I met after moving to Mendocino County. He and Diane made the move to Northern California in 2005 (we got here in 2007). They both work in jobs they enjoy, are college educated, and both have held various successful jobs in prior lives (that’s other places they lived, not a reference to reincarnation.) They don’t—unlike many in Mendocino county—go around talking-up various government conspiracies, i.e., as “evidenced” in jet plane contrails (or chem-trails, as some of the locals prefer to label all those streaks in the sky). These are not sympathizers of PG&E (who is?), yet they haven’t been seen hanging among the anti-smart meter crowd. As a matter of fact, Diane’s comment about the PG&E controversy was “the tin-foil hat people around here are raising all kinds of shit.” One other point. Steve works about 12 miles from their home in Gualala, California. Diane drives 65 miles to Fort Bragg for work every day. Due to the winding nature of California’s Route One, the coastal highway, it takes her about 80 minutes to get to work. That’s 130 miles a day and almost three hours in her car, five days a week. With gasoline prices at $4.00 per gallon, why would she travel that far for a job? The simple answer: Health insurance.

In a conversation over dinner one night, I listened carefully as they talked about their jobs and the benefits of those jobs. I’ve found that most people in Mendocino County—other than state, county, and some city employees—do without health insurance. Many are denied coverage due to the classic health industry phrase, “pre-existing condition”. For others it is simply a matter of economics: it’s unaffordable.

I asked Diane if we could talk openly about her health insurance, as I told her I’d like to use the information for my blog. She agreed, and began: “I pay no premium for my health care. 100% of the premiums are paid by my employer. Of course, I have co-pays, deductibles, and other expenses but the premiums are paid by my employer. Steve’s employer does not offer health insurance but he’s covered under my policy.” She added that they earn about $50,000 per year, which is not a bad household income in Mendocino County. However, the single biggest budget expense, after rent, is the cost of Steve’s premiums. For these two healthy people, Steve’s premiums have now passed $11,000 per year. Think about it. Before they spend one dollar on rent, food, phones, clothing, transportation (repairs, maintenance, and gas since they own their two cars), medical co-pays and deductibles, electricity, propane, house insurance, car insurance, internet access, before any of this, they’ve already turned over more than one-fifth of their gross income to cover health insurance.

Diane volunteered to take the above items apart as monthly (and annual) 2011 expenses to give me an idea of where their $50,000 in income went. A chart is included here,

but the basic reality is that their expenditures are unsustainable. That’s their assessment and I could only, reluctantly, agree.

Believe me, my own experience includes a collection of semi-form letters from insurers questioning any health-related part of my past. These inquiries are clearly to avoid letting our family have health insurance or to preclude assigning the corporation any liability for anything that I may bring with me. It’s sort of the Typhoid Mary idea. Mary Mallon (1869-1938) was America’s turn-of-the-last-century “patient zero” in New York City, a person identified as an asymptomatic carrier and deliverer of typhoid fever, causing the infection, sickness, and death of others. And that’s how the health insurance corporations look at us: to them we are all a potential Typhoid Mary, ready to infect their bottom line.

This whole health care debate is exacerbated by our mobile society. A majority of Americans have moved or will live somewhere else than their birth-city during their lives. Coverage under one policy, whether through an employer or an independent policy, usually becomes moot once you relocate to another state to find a job, or go to school, or to be with extended family. Although my family had a good independent policy in Connecticut, it wouldn’t cover us when we moved to Minnesota in 2004. I was fortunate that the college I worked for in Saint Paul had an excellent policy. After three years in the great frozen north we chose to head west, but once again our healthcare was not transferable, and the application process started all over again.

You begin to believe that insurance companies have a list of 5, or 10, or 15,000 maladies, just hoping your application contains at least one name on the list. And if by any strange twist of fate you do get accepted for health coverage, they will exclude anything you may have had in the past, and the insurance companies will hedge their bet by charging high premiums. In short, the companies have you coming or going: grant or withhold coverage, and if granted, charge a lot and exclude anything they can. Many choose to not have health insurance due to financial necessity, principle, comfort in their own healthy lifestyle, religious beliefs, or some rationale that makes sense to them. But the reality of healthcare is that anyone who chooses to go without health insurance is that we/they are one accident, one illness, or one unforeseen happening from disaster. The result for all too many will ultimately be bankruptcy due to medical bills, or death.

So why have so many people bought into the overwhelmingly Republican Party mantra to repeal the federal health care law, officially the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”? So many have decried a move to universal healthcare that it defies logic. And what has been offered in place of a repeal of the healthcare law? Usually it’s the wonderful comfort of the free market. To that I can only add, if you like what the free market did for the economy in 2008, you’ll love the free market for healthcare.

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011

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3 responses to “The Health Care Debate: Fighting for the Right to be Sick. Or Dead.

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  1. I’ve to say, I dont know if its the clashing colours or the poor grammar, but this weblog is hideous! I mean, I dont want to sound like a know-it-all or anything, but could you have possibly put a little bit far more effort into this subject. Its genuinely fascinating, but you dont represent it well at all, man.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Re: Poor grammar: Since there are no examples cited, I’m interested in whether or not you are an American or a Brit sufficiently aware of common and accepted use of the English language? Re: Clashing colors: is the use of white and blue problematic for you? It seems as though the term “hideous” is a little over the top for this simple blog. As for the representation, I’d be interested in which particular passages have offended your comprehension or sense of taste. As for the grammar, let me point out a couple of things contained in your comments: [1] “I’ve to say” is less than brilliant usage of the contraction of “I have”. [2] Remember to add an apostrophe in “it’s” when used in the context of “I don’t know if its the clashing….”; [3] the passage “…but could you have possibly put a little more effort into this subject” seems to need a question mark instead of a period. [4] The passage “Its genuinely fascinating…” needs the aforementioned apostrophe to represent “it is”. The word “dont” also needs an apostrophe. Thanks again. I’m always interested in improving my skills.

      Thanks.

      David

  2. how do i do this

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