I’ll take this head on

I’m swimming in Iowa City-ness right now: slouchy hipsters disguising their social awkwardness in their saggy skinny jeans who obviously do not own a brush or bottle of shampoo. It’s good to be back at school for a few days and to touch base with the number of super wonderful people here, but in contrast to Dallas and Plano in particular, I’m reminded of the cultural gulf between here and there. And, it’s just the part of Iowa City I’m in that’s getting to me. I really, really despise people who act like they’re just too fucking cool, you know? Oh- and from the bar two doors down from this coffee house, a squad of new freshmen just left. Don’t even get me started on that culture here at Iowa.

Anyways, just had to get that off my mind. Again, a perfect reminder that Eric and I made a decision to leave for a reason. We were over this place- not that Eric was ever in love with it to begin with. I’ve got time to kill before dinner (and I’m starving), and I’m thinking I should connect the dots for a few people- the ones who don’t get the connection between being a Christian and health care reform. Their argument goes something like this, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t see why I have to pay for other people to have health care.”

Where to begin…

First, I’ll point out the deep disconnect between these folks’ profession of Christian values and their actions. What they believe is certainly not translating into how they act. This is the big glaring problem I have with this brand of Christian (because it isn’t all of them). Apparently, going to Church is the only way to manifest your faith, not by actually living your values and striving to be Christ-like in your deeds.

I’m paraphrasing here, but didn’t Christ say something like, the least among us will inherit the earth, and to treat your brother as you would treat yourself? I have a hazy memory of something in the Bible about Jesus and helping the poor…I don’t even think those are the best examples. But it is counter to everything Christ preaches about loving all of mankind- isn’t that what he did, after all?- and then questioning every human being’s right to good health because you think somehow you are the one stuck paying the tab.

Let’s establish a a baseline of information here: in the U.S., health insurance is essential to good health. Those who have insurance have better access to health care, i.e., they are more likely to receive better treatment based on their insurance status alone. This is a fact that I wish I had a citation for off-hand.  So, someone with no insurance goes to the emergency room only when they are seriously ill, rather than receiving ongoing care from a regular physician. Because they have no insurance, they are given only provisional care at the ER and then returned to whence they came. One of the staff members at the organization I’m working with for my dissertation told me a story about a man who came to their clinic after going to the ER with a gun shot wound, but, because he had no insurance, the ER would not remove the bullet, patched him up and sent him on his way.  I’ll get to the ways the system absorbs the accrued costs shortly, but, rather than receiving what is often life-saving preventative care, the uninsured let illness fester until it is so serious, they have to go to the ER where they are given the bare minimum care and discharged.

Now, I was sitting in a lecture at the UI with Karl Rove (bah!) in 2008 where a student mentioned that he was sick but couldn’t go to the doctor because he had no insurance. A woman behind me (who, it turns out, was the mother of the president of the Young Republicans who were co-sponsoring the talk), muttered disgustedly, “You can still go.” I couldn’t contain myself. I exploded at her and said, “I can’t believe you just said that!” because clearly, that woman has never thought past her co-pay to look at the cost of doctor office visits, sans the insurance co-pay buffer. For those of us who have, we know that an office visit easily costs over $100; the urgent care clinic in Santa Fe where we had to take Katie with her ear infection stated the ER down the road that they directed certain patients to charged $225 to begin with. Factor in any antibiotics…and that’s a large chunk of change for those of us who live paycheck to paycheck. Even with co-pays to take off some of that cost, it can still cost nearly $100 after emergency care co-pays and then, say, certain antibiotics.

Taking Katie’s sickness in Santa Fe as an example, I had the means to go to the urgent care clinic, pay the $50 for the copay; if the doctor hadn’t given us a sample of one of the antibiotics he prescribed, it would have been another $40 for her medicine. This was for a simple ear infection, which was heart-wrenching enough because my baby was so sick and miserable.

But think about the folks who simply cannot go to the doctor. Think about the parents who put off care for even their sick children because they just don’t have the money. Seriously- look at the insurance claims (those of us with kids get them in the mail a lot more, I know). See what’s covered and what’s not, the heavily discounted price for in-network care. How many of us could pay what’s actually charged from a doctor’s visit, let alone required surgery or other medical care? Since 2006, I’ve wracked up at least $60,000 to $75,000 in doctor’s bills alone between surgery, cancer treatment, doctor’s visits, test, having a baby that I could pay for because of my insurance and a reasonable out-of-pocket maximum…the paradox is, I wouldn’t have these bills without insurance. I have insurance because my union got it for me. But, before I had that insurance, I sought the cheapest health care I could find and subsequently, found out I had cancer as a result when I actually had insurance that made it accessible for me to go to the right doctors and have the right surgery.

I should make that clear: I only found out I had cancer because I had good insurance. I had a baby because I had insurance. Otherwise, I’d still be sitting here unknowlingly with cancer and with a ginormous thyroid, without Katie and without another baby on the way.

So, tell me, is that right to deny someone access to good health because they can’t pay? Because the complaint that “I shouldn’t have to pay for someone else to have health insurance” misses the point. The uninsured are not uninsured by choice. The underinsured aren’t that way by choice, either. No one chooses to be poor. No one chooses to be sick. But would Christ look the other way if someone was in need? Did he place blame on the poor and helpless for their circumstances? Do those of us who are more fortunate have the right to ignore those in help and, in the meantime, try to make life better for everyone?

I’m struggling to make myself clear here, but what I’m trying to say is, to deny that we should get insurance to everyone, somehow- hell, any way possible- is to, by extension, deny that every single human being has a right to good health. It is to say that only those who can afford to pay for it should be able to go to the doctor because that is the system of rationing that is already in place. It is to ignore that not everyone has it as good as you do. It is, in my mind, to say that you are better than the less fortunate and that they can die because you can’t be bothered to help them out. It is to judge others on public assistance because there is a litany of assumptions about the uninsured, namely, that it is their fault, some failure of their judgment that got them to this place.

But you know what? Who cares? Who gives a shit if someone made disastrous choices and landed themselves in hell- who are we to give up on them? Christ certainly never gave up on us, did he? Who are we to decide who can live and die? I’m dangerously close to making a “pro-life” argument here, but, in my mind, this is the logical extension of the folks who don’t think they should have to pay for others’ health care. Little do they know, they already pay for it (to the tune of about $1200 a year in the “hidden taxes” accrued through the absorption of the costs of health care that doesn’t get paid for by the patient who can’t pay for his or her care). But, if someone doesn’t read up on the Bible, I wouldn’t expect them to be versed in irony, either.


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