Last week I had a health scare, which may not have been the least bit scary if I had insurance. As it was, I spent a week vomiting with the most painful diarrhea I’ve ever experienced, and I just waited it out. I’m lucky, because the likely culprit is my family’s tendency towards food sensitivities, and not some kind of illness that would have required medication or hospitalization. I stopped eating crackers and bread, started eating more bananas and yogurt, and have gone a whole day without my innards exploding. Success!
As I was fighting with the sensation that Freddy Kreuger was trying to claw his way out of my bowels and wondering if I’d ever sleep through the night without crapping my pants again, I spent a lot of painfully wakeful hours in the bathroom ruminating over the things I was studying in school. It was, to say the least, surreal. My main topic of study, aside from linguistics, is cultural relations and race theory. We’re reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, so in my mind I keep going back to the homeless shelter and thinking about my experiences there. One of the main themes in my class journal is the way in which access to education creates systems of oppression. ”Wait,” the immediate response of classmates inevitably comes, “in the US everyone is guaranteed access to education!”
Access isn’t the same thing as success, I reply dryly.
Besides, you may have two roads- one clear of debris and potholes, guarded on both sides by a gate and gatekeeper who knows you by name. The other is a dirt road which is washed out by rain half the time and prowled by wolves. They may both grant you access to the city, but you really can’t fault the people who live at the end of the dirt lane for never moving beyond their immediate surroundings. ”Access” to education doesn’t mean that anyone is getting educated.
But that has nothing to do, really, with how sick I was last week. The reason the two are inextricably tied together is the fact that my sickness started to really impact my education. I was spending half of classes in the bathroom, I was distracted while reading, I was exhausted and out of sorts even when feeling “better”. But I couldn’t go to the doctor, because I couldn’t pay for it. If it was a food allergy that was starting to rear it’s ugly head there was no way I’d ever be able to pay for the bloodwork, colonoscopy, and other fancy tests to confirm it anyway. Either I’d get better or I wouldn’t.
Yet in our society there are still swaths of people who look at students in my situation and tell them it’s their fault. ”WORK,” people will say, “SO YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.” As if picking up a second job wouldn’t have a pretty harrowing effect on my own health as well as the well-being of my children. Hell, two short years ago I was working 40+ hours a week WHILE going to school full time, and my job didn’t even offer me benefits because I was technically “on call” even though all the hours I worked were scheduled- and I couldn’t afford to buy insurance because once groceries, rent, bills, and childcare were taken care of (my only expenses aside from school) I’d have $50 left at the end of any given month.
God help me the times the kids needed clothes, or I needed clothes, or anything went wrong.
At least the government covered the kid’s health care.
But I’m 30 now. Time to start worrying about breast cancer and ovarian cancer and cervical cancer and heart disease.
What if any of those strike in the 2 years before I get my teaching certification? What if they strike after I have my teaching certification and I can’t keep teaching?
Wonderful things to worry about while hugging a toilet seat at 3am, let me tell you.
And then for whatever reason, a rash of friends started whining about “Obamacare” on Facebook, and I felt my blood starting to boil. The Affordable Care Act, for what it’s worth, will allow my whole family to have healthcare coverage. It’ll mean the difference between being able to see a doctor after 24 hours of vomiting and holding out for a week to see if I get better. (Anything more than a week is just too dangerous, even if it means going into debt I have no way to pay.) I really don’t know if I have the words to know how to address it, but I feel like I have to try.
Not everyone has access to the kind of job that provides health care. More and more, employers are hiring people as part-time or on call to avoid having to provide health care coverage. Even jobs that traditionally gave benefits, like in the health care industry, are no longer dependable sources of coverage. Soon, the only entry-level jobs that will offer coverage are ones that you have to have a high-powered degree to secure.
So for working class people, the idea of “get a job” to get coverage is a bit laughable. My husband and I are both employed. He easily works 50 hours a week, I work 15-20 and go to school full time. We’re within 20% of the poverty line. We budget, we pinch our pennies, but at the end of any given month what is left over is in the double digits, not enough to pay the $600 a month it would cost to get insurance through his job. I consider myself fortunate to be able to go back to school and eventually have a job that will provide benefits for me, but in the meantime I’m on the orange-juice-and-crossed-fingers health care plan.
So let’s look at some of the lovely arguments I’ve seen for why the government shouldn’t provide health care to lower-income families like mine:
- It’s taking money from the rich and giving to the poor, and that’s communism/socialism. There are many reasons why this argument is flawed. This argument implies that nothing of merit is given back to the rich in return. First, if my family has health care coverage we are less likely to be a bigger burden on the community in the long run. We’ll get antibiotics before we have to go to the emergency room, for instance. By doing that we’ll avoid racking up bills that we can’t pay, which means the costs currently incurred to pay for families like mine will be avoided. The hospitals will be less overburdened, they’ll have to send less statements, they’ll have to employ less bill collectors and payment adjusters, and in the meanwhile working class people will miss less days of work, meaning they’ll be overall more productive and have more money to spend. $$$, “Sweet!”, you should say, because that means a lower overall cost of providing health care which is more cost effective, doubled with a higher gross domestic profit which benefits all. Hooray! The second implication of this argument, and the one that I resent even more, is that families like mine somehow do not contribute to the overall well being of society. We give charitably, we do our jobs well without complaining, we’re raising responsible kids who hope to have bright futures. All of that is worth preserving, isn’t it? The cost/benefit calculation shouldn’t start and end with “My money being spent on me > My money being spent on those jerks.” It should take into account who people are capable of being when society better helps them meet their essential needs. After all, we’ve already decided it is to society’s benefit that poor people with children be able to provide food for their kids, rather than those kids ending up in the system. Health care is just as essential to a productive childhood as food. Being healthcare unstable, or having parents who are healthcare unstable, is damaging to a child. Trust me, it was not in my kid’s best interest that I spend a week puking up my guts and incapable of being able to devote my attentions to them. It hurt my entire family. Me having affordable access to healthcare will mean that my kids have the best possible parenting both in sickness and in health that I am capable of providing. Having that means that they are better able to be successful in life and school and thus contribute to the economy when they are grown. That’s good for me but also good for you- because an able worker is a funded consumer, and that should make sense to people who see $$$ as the bottom line. We don’t want to raise a generation of kids who flunked out of school because they had to pick up the slack when their working poor parents with no healthcare got cancer- do we?
- I have to work for my healthcare, why does that asshole get it for free? Trust me, buddy, If I could work for my healthcare I would. I don’t have that option. Not because I’m dumb, not because I’m irresponsible, not because I have no goals but because the career I have chosen requires me to be in school. If I wasn’t in school, none of my employment options would offer health care. I am one of so many of my peers left in the same boat- working diligently, saving pennies, trying to do the right thing but still creeping further and further behind as the rising cost of gas and wheat and milk and cheese and meat and school supplies and kids clothes and shoes and paper and everything else drags us further and further behind. Oh, and the garbage bill and electric bill and water bill are all higher than they were two years ago, too, while paychecks are not rising. Essentially, this argument says, “there is an entire class of people in our country who are not deserving of what I have because they aren’t as smart or privileged as me.” Oh, buddy, trying saying to my face that I’m not as smart or deserving as you. (I know I’m not as privileged, that’s cool, I don’t need to be.) Not only are you saying that this entire class of people- really, the bottom half of “middle class” that is too poor to buy out of pocket insurance but not poor enough for government benefits, is not as valuable to our economy as everyone else. If you really think that, I don’t know how to respond. People who are sick, overworked, and worry don’t consume goods, and people who don’t consume goods don’t keep the economy going. Giving the lower middle class a little relief ensures that they continue to consume- the only other option be that they improve their lot independently (impossible, as new jobs being created tend to be either lower in quality than current jobs being lost, or requiring licensure that means going back to school) or just give up and go on benefits- which means they will contribute to the economy even less.
- Everything Obama Does Must Be Bad. (Or- MARK OF THE BEAST.) If you disagree with everything Obama does because, well, you feel obligated to, why are you reading my blog? If you think that anything equating to socialized health care will lead to the mark of the beast, allow me to reassure you. The Bible says that everyone (I.E, EVERYONE) will be forced to wear the mark of the beast to buy and sell. It doesn’t say for healthcare. So, there are two ways to look at this: one is that healthcare isn’t buying and selling, so this isn’t the mark of the beast. The other is to realize that the mark of the beast is a prophetic inevitability, so wondering about it is an exercise in fear mongering that God really would never encourage. The spirit he gives us is not a spirit of fear. Yet, if you want to be concerned about the Mark, here’s something to be more concerned about: More and more, buying and selling is happening based off of unique identifiers or user IDs associated with the codes imbedded with mobile devices. You can totally walk into your favorite coffee shop with presets in your phone that let them know what you want for breakfast, and then walk back out without any money changing hands! It’s all automatic! How long before your unique identifier is tattooed onto your hand or forehead? Now, if you want to worry about the mark, worry about that. Give me my health care, please.
Honestly, health care is an essential human right. I believe that. No one should ever have to face their body being damaged because they do not have the money to keep it in good health. Without our bodies, we have nothing. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who have to suffer unnecessary complications, face ridiculous health risks, or wallow in stressful uncertainty because they do not have the money to pay for health care. Are those people really any less valuable to society than you? If we want a society where everyone thrives, that has to be a society where no one faces an untreated chronic illness because they can’t afford a doctor, where kids never have to watch a parent unable to get basic care, where kids never drop out of high school or college to work because a parent is diagnosed with a chronic illness without healthcare and cannot provide for themself, and so on. A healthy society is one where health care is available to all, so all are the most free they possibly can be to contribute and consume.
The Affordable Care Act is just the first of many more measures that need to be taken to be sure that America is a place where everyone is healthy and contributing. This is necessary for the survival of our society, and I strongly believe that. I hope this rambling explanation is in any way helpful in explaining my reasons.