Wednesday, January 04, 2017

I Don't Do This for My Health

We live in a funny place, but not many of us can afford to laugh. I may have had a disparaging word for the steep rise in co-pays we've faced this year, but relatively, they're not nearly as bad as they could be. I have to now think twice before spending 50 bucks at an urgent care, but usually when you or a family member need a place like that, 50 bucks is the last thing on your mind. The real issues are the fact that Mulgrew never presented this to us when selling the contract, and we have no idea how many more add-on costs will pop up these next few years.

We're the only wealthy nation that doesn't guarantee health care for its citizens. As if that isn't bad enough, the new GOP leadership is getting ready to roll back the few improvements Obamacare achieved. I've read a lot of complaints about it. There are high deductibles, for example, and high premiums. Nonetheless, there may be fewer bankruptcies over catastrophic medical emergency, and fewer homes being sold to pay crippling hospital bills. I learned that this was a thing decades ago, and it's remarkable that we've allowed it to continue.

When I was in college at SUNY New Paltz, I played weekends in a band. Most of our work was in Queens. I would hitchhike or take buses and trains on weekends, go to work, and come back. One of my band members was in Queens too. We would stay at his house sometimes. His mom had some issue, and lost first her leg and then her life as a result.

My friend's dad had to sell his house to pay doctor bills. He moved into the basement of the home of one of his sons. One Christmas he took a gun and blew his brains out. That was the first time I started to think our health system, to say the very least, was not all that good. In fact, it began to look unconscionable at that point, and time hasn't done much of anything to change my mind. While Obamacare was far from ideal, it was the first and only improvement on a system designed to enrich insurance companies rather than help working Americans.

The first time I got health insurance myself was when I became a teacher. I think at that time you had to wait six months before you took out insurance. Either that or no one told me I was eligible. In any case, I was at John F. Kennedy High School, and I asked my chapter leader what insurance I should get. He didn't want to tell me, saying he couldn't be responsible and this and that. I pressed him, though, and he told me to get GHI with CBP. I did, and I still have it.

Before I got this chapter leader job, I spent a lot of time playing music when I wasn't at school. To ensure I would never make any money at all doing this, I chose to play bluegrass fiddle. Another really cool thing about doing this is that almost no one in this area even wants to hear it, so I'd travel a lot to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. One Sunday I had a job playing in a historic theater in Pennsylvania. We were opening for the late James King and his band.

The folks who hired us sent us out to lunch down the block from the theater. I remember that I sat with his banjo player. He was the only person in his band who appeared to be in good physical shape. I'd brought my family, and I remember that the banjo player and I both ordered Reuben sandwiches.

Later in the week I got a call. The banjo player experienced chest pains on Monday. Knowing that a visit to the ER would've run him thousands of dollars, a number of dollars that not a whole lot of bluegrass musicians have, he decided to tough it out. The next day he died.

How could this happen? If he lived in Canada, in Europe, in any other wealthy country in the world he'd almost certainly be around today. But he isn't. Back when I was heavily into this bluegrass thing, I'd often hear news about a benefit somewhere for some professional musician or other. These were not weekend warriors like me, but rather folks who were out on the road doing this all the time. How could our country not support artists? In fact, how could we not support everyone?

Obamacare made some improvements. No one gets excluded for existing medical conditions. Kids were covered under parent plans until 26. It did away with plans that didn't meet a minimum standard. It helped some people who needed financial assistance. But it still relied on private insurance companies focused on profit rather than people. And the GOP refused to work toward improving it, focusing rather on killing it and moving us back toward the nothing we had earlier.

Now they pull all the levers of power and their plan appears to be to kill it and tell us all to sink or swim. While anyone with the option will choose the latter, not all will be able to afford it. As if that weren't enough, they want to roll back Social Security and Medicare. Me, I can't believe anyone would vote for these people. I can't believe they persuade anyone with a job they have their interests at heart. But Fox News is a thing, people watch it, and they believe what they say. Some people don't need no stinking facts and won't be swayed by them either.

What we really need is single-payer, which seems to work better than our system everywhere it's used.  Most Americans agree. So how can we allow Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and all their flying monkeys actively work against our interests?

More importantly, what can we do now to advance the agenda we actually prefer?
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