Not Robin Hood. Not Lionhearted. Just Wise.

“If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.” — Keli Carender.

I don’t think she could possibly mean this.  Keli Carender is lately acknowledged as an originator of the Tea Party movement.  I imagine her standing there with her $20 bill, and then I imagine a sick child who needs a $20 antibiotic prescription to live, and it seems clear to me that taking $20 from her to save someone’s life is exactly the right thing to do.  Not law-abiding, but moral.  As for the “supposed” needs of the American people for health care, I’m not sure if she is the only person alive who thinks our health care system is working fine, or she thinks people are giving themselves leukemia as a prank, or what.

In all seriousness, my argument for government intervention in health care is never about morality.  I think it is a moral issue.  But who cares what I think?  My real argument is that it directly and powerfully improves your life when your neighbors’ lives are improved.

If you have been to a developing country, let’s say Mexico because that’s the one I’ve been to, you see what happens when wealth is distributed unevenly.  People with money have to live behind barbed wire and hire bodyguards.  Whole sections of your city are built out of cardboard boxes.  Doesn’t that sound ugly and scary, all morality aside?  These are the kinds of problems that result from uneven distribution of wealth and people going without things they need, like health care.  This isn’t to say that Mexico hasn’t got other problems (God bless them they got some gorgeous stuff too), or that a lack of health care will turn us into a third-world country.  But it is holding us back, big time, keeping us from competing with countries that have populations healthier and more secure than ours.  If you want to live in a more prosperous, safe country, you gotta share.

Carender, and other people on the right, often seem to be implying that some Americans are leeches: taking her money when they’re not the ones who worked for it. I don’t think it’s those so-called “welfare moms” or these mythical poor and lazy folks who are the leeches.  I’ve known a lot more poor people who are busting their asses to keep their families together.

I think the leeches are the people who benefit from the military fighting in the Middle East to ensure your supply of oil, the NIH studying flu viruses and developing vaccines, OSHA keeping their workplace safe, and the Department of Labor limiting their work hours to a manageable level.  The people who drive over federally funded bridges and interstates and accept federal student grants, and then claim the federal government is unresponsive and worthless, and say they don’t want to contribute to it, in fact, say they want to take it apart and return us to some kind of backward Articles of Confederation when we agreed in 1789 that that was a dumb idea.

If you are a part of our society, what we do is take care of our own.  We don’t give people an ethics test before we allow them to get Medicaid.  We don’t sell cheap gasoline to people who have worked hard enough to earn it.  We share resources, we share the bounty, and we share expenses.  That’s what it means to live in a society, rather than on a desert island.

We try to equalize opportunity in the United States not to be nice, or moral.  We do it because we know that the world is capricious. The next great researcher or business genius or musician could be born anywhere, in any neighborhood.  Without offering everyone good schools and good health care, we might lose that kid before s/he grows up.  The cure for cancer gets shot in a drive-by.  The next Warren Buffett lets his cancer spread before he can really get going because he doesn’t have health insurance.  He’s an entrepreneur, after all.  This is why we give them your $20.  Just in case.  Just in case.  You don’t want to miss one of those people.  That’s what we can’t afford.

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Dropping It

Last night I found out the Democrats had managed to lose the Senatorship that belonged to Jack and Teddy Kennedy.  I had to watch two episodes of  “Gilmore Girls” Season 5 and eat a big piece of chocolate cake.  Then I had to do a half hour of sun salutations.

Which really didn’t help.  I still felt sick.

I believe we need to fix health care.  I believe every American should have health care, not merely because it is humane, but because it’s a huge and gross a waste of money for our citizens to live with this patchwork of for-profit health insurance companies.

A good chunk of our people get public health insurance they generally like (Medicare and Medicaid), then a big chunk don’t have any, and then there’s the rest of us, like me, who nominally have it, but live on the edge of financial ruin regardless, wondering when ours will evaporate or become too expensive or refuse to pay for our care.

I believe America’s hodge podge, wasteful system distracts us and drains money from more worthwhile endeavors.  It distorts the competition that should exist in our marketplace when some employers channel funds to health insurance and others don’t.  In competing with countries who have solid national health care systems, Americans have one hand tied behind their backs.

Or maybe I’m wrong.

Accepting that you might be wrong is a very comfortable position, if you can get there.  Maybe the Massachusetts voters are right.  Maybe the health care bill will pass anyway.  Maybe this one won’t pass, so a better one will.  (I still feel the need to add, “God forbid!”)  Maybe Americans need to get smashed down even harder by the health insurance and drug companies before they empower their leaders to put some limits on those corporate interests.

It’s great if, all through a contentious debate, you can keep in your pocket that tiny knowledge that you might be wrong.  I don’t think it means weakness.  I think it’s smart.  It keeps you alert to the arguments of the other side.

I can’t always keep that in my pocket, though.  I’m pretty sure that on this health insurance business I am 100% right.  This bill is a step in the right direction.  We have to make some step.  I know it’s not perfect, but we’ve waited at least 70 years for this.  I like a wobbly, wacky step more than staying frozen.

My parents’ dog likes to play fetch, and she jumps like a deer.  It’s entertaining and invigorating to throw the ball for her, but she doesn’t know how to give it up.  You throw it, she brings it back, and then she sits there with it in her mouth, like, “What?”  She doesn’t know how to drop it.  You have to have two balls to carry out a satisfying game.

I had the Massachusetts senatorial vote in my jaws last night, and it was hard for me to put it down.  I just wanted to chew on it and growl with it.  It’s even silly to call it bad news.  Don’t I believe a fluid, changing government is a good one?  Don’t I believe Americans will change their health care system when they are damn good and ready and not a minute before?  I do.

It’s still hard to drop it and say, I might be wrong.  It doesn’t mean I won’t keep arguing or fighting for what I believe.  It just means I don’t have to carry it around and let it choke me.

More Fear and Loathing, or, Why Health Care Discussions Are So Scary

I wrote the other day about Americans having no balls.  What I meant by that was: I feel that we should give reforming our health care system a serious, dramatic, bold, brave try.

I’m going to add, today, that my rah-rah goes out with a full understanding of why people are afraid.

I would like to believe that if I have good health insurance and good health care, I will avoid pain, aging, and even (fingers crossed) death.

Good health insurance and vitamin C, perhaps.

I understand that the idea of changing anything about doctors or hospitals is scary.  The problem is, I am already suffering (sometimes), diseased (right now this nagging tooth infection), and mortal (I think).  Whether or not I have health insurance, I will get sick, get old, and die.

This is bad news, I know, but the entire force of advertising is out there trying to argue against this, so sometimes I feel like I have to stand up and repeat it.  No matter what you own or buy or grasp at, you will get sick, get old, and die.  Best case scenario.

Even if I am responsible and good and I tell my representative not to change a thing about my health insurance, I will get sick, get old, and die.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is, if we’re all living in these crackerbox bodies, then we can at least look out for each other.  We’re all in the same boat: mortals, easily broken.  There is never enough money to keep people healthy and whole forever.  But we can look out for each other, and try to share the risk and the healing in a way that is fair.

We are in this together, and we have to believe in each other.  If Canada’s system has problems, that is no reason to ignore everything they have tried.  Some of it probably works, some of it doesn’t.  We can study!  We can learn!  We don’t have to recreate Canada or the UK with our system.  (You know they just go there to film because it’s cheaper and they speak English.  Where’s the footage from Japan…?)

I think the scariness of health care reform hits Americans pretty hard.  We are not invincible or immortal.  (It seems easier to remember mortality in Europe, surrounded as you are by the stuff of long-dead people.)  And we are not independent.  Our health (or lack of it) affects the people around us.  In a big way.  We are not lone cowboys who can all rope our own doctors.

I think we can change, we have to change.  We cannot throw up our hands at our problems and say, “Rationing!” anymore.  We can’t watch footage of cute British towns with Splash Mountain*-length queues and say, “I aint waiting to see a doctor!”  The price of not changing has become too high.

So please don’t vote out your representatives next fall because they are trying to be brave.  Maybe you disagree with them, but this is a brave move.  Not brave like “Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” but like when people risk their dream of wearing a grey suit with a blue tie and an American flag pin and attending endless meetings with droning speeches and votes at the end.  (Obviously not my dream!)

Somebody needs to go out on a limb and imagine a better way, and try to create it.  That’s what we want our leaders to do.

*As some may be aware, the lines for Splash Mountain are outrageously long, especially on a warm day, although my personal experience with this is quite limited, as I was only brave enough to ride it one time, many years ago.  I have in fact waited for others to ride this ride, and believed that I could have gotten on and off Space Mountain, a far superior ride, in the time they took to reunite with me at the Winnie the Pooh gift shop.  This is just a little levity since I wrote so much about the harsh Zen truths of living.

Monster in the Closet

Somehow, we continue to dither about how or if to change our health care system.  We have shown great leadership at some times in our history, but when I read about how we compare with other countries today, I worry that we are stuck in fear.  The other industrialized nations of the world have shown us a myriad of ways to create public health systems, and shown us the strengths and weaknesses of various systems.  Still, we are not ready.  We want to suck our thumbs and cry.

A poll cited in the New York Times today reported that “75 percent of respondents said they were concerned that the cost of their own health care cost would go up if the government did not create a system of providing health care for all Americans. But 77 percent said they were concerned the cost of health care would go up if the government did create such a system.”

What kind of craziness is that?  It’s like a little kid telling you, “Don’t close my closet door.  You’ll make the monster angry.”  And then, “Don’t open my closet door.  The monster will come out!”

This hardly seems like an American reaction to me.  I thought we were a nation of risk-takers.  Many of our people are here because they struck out for new places, took a big risk.  And this public health insurance thing is hardly the biggest risk we’ve taken.  Richard Nixon had a similar idea.  And that was, like, a long time ago (before I was born!), and he was not exactly a commie feel-good croissant-eater.

Almost a year ago, a lot of Americans were all hyped up about having our first African-American president, and we were all cooing about how times had changed, and how wonderful it was, and what it all meant (even Republicans).  We make one reasonable leap forward (let’s not be racist in our voting!), and the next summer we’re too afraid to entertain possibilities for fixing one of our most glaring problems.

But the fear is enticing: oh, the government will tell you what medical procedures you can have!  (Instead of your insurance company or your bank account balance.)  Oh, the government will waste our money, indebt us!  (Unlike those kind, gentle corporations, who never waste our money or extort us for bailouts rather than go out of business.)

I’m not afraid of public health insurance.  I’m hopeful.  I hope that my friends who live with the fear of illness or injury causing financial catastrophe will get some piece of mind.  I hope that people who have already been unlucky enough to have cancer can live merely with the fear of cancer, not the dread of knowing it’s impossible for them to get insurance again.

I hope that this country will recognize that almost none of us are wealthy enough to afford every medical procedure that we might ever want.  That having the choice of every doctor on planet earth doesn’t mean a lot if you are laid off and have no insurance and run through your savings.  And that if you think your health insurance and income keep you safe from catastrophic medical bills, do a little more research, and find out you are wrong.  (Except for Warren Buffet.  And probably Brad Pitt.  Pitt does have a lot of kids, though.)

It just breaks my heart that the same country with the balls to take on the British Empire and Adolf Hitler is shaking in its boots over taking a step that a struggling place like Thailand attempted in 2001.  I mean, seriously.  If Thailand can deal with both political instability and universal health care, then the U.S. can give it a shot, too.  We are embarrassing ourselves by shying away from the mere attempt.  This is not the stuff we are made of.

The Times reference: