Monday, October 7, 2013

Can You Imagine Life Without Health Insurance?

"Compassion is...the...capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin..the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too."          --Frederick Buechner

It's the most valuable identification card I carry in my wallet, worth its weight in gold and then so much more. With it securely tucked away in my pocket, I sleep very, very well at night.  I move through my life, most of the time, in fact, oblivious to what might happen to me if I did not possess this little 3 inch by 2 inch laminated plastic card.  And no, it's not my driver's license or a credit card.

It's my health insurance card. The one I've taken out at the doctor's office so many times, the one I've handed to a nurse in the Emergency Room when I needed help and had no where else to turn, the one card in my wallet that really is a matter of life and death.

I cannot imagine living a good life, any kind of secure life, without that id card.  Can you imagine that, life without health insurance?  

It's not the best life, not by a long shot.  Putting off getting a pain checked out because you just can't afford it so you grin and bear it and pray for the best. Working a low wage job at Wal-Mart or Target, barely making enough to feed your kids or keep them in day care. Who can pay for a check up? Getting so sick you go to the Emergency Room and there you are treated but in the most expensive way of all, acute care.  Last year such ER visits cost the American health care system $49 billion. Worst, you get very ill and treated but then the bills come and you are wiped out economically, one of 2 million Americans who each year file for bankruptcy because of medical expenses.  

All because you lack just one thing: health care coverage and the precious little card that goes along with it.  Imagine that.  Can you?

But still, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which seeks to give heath care security to 47 million of our neighbors and friends...well let's just say the ACA is a bit controversial.  So seemingly unpopular that 30 or so members of Congress are willing to hold the entire federal budget hostage, in the hope that they can de-fund the program. Zero it out. Kill it before it is born.  Put it too death. 

Their vitriol against the ACA is certainly strong medicine. As Representative John Fleming of Louisiana recently said, "Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress. It is the most existential threat to our economy ... since the Great Depression.”  

While I don't quite get such hysterical hyperbole against health care for all, I do understand why the ACA is not winning the public relations wars.  A slim majority of Americans are opposed to the ACA.  The law is very complicated.  It is the most comprehensive overhaul of America's health care since Medicare and Medicaid were passed a generation ago, a huge step into the unknown.  Its roll out has not been without mistakes, starts and stops, struggles. 

Yet for me, I want the ACA to succeed for one simple reason.  I cannot imagine lacking health insurance and therefore I cannot imagine denying the same security to so many of my fellow Americans.  I've got it. They should too. 

So what may be finally lacking in this national debate is not the money, not the political will, and not the government competence to make the ACA work.  What is missing, perhaps, is one simple human virtue: compassion.  That's the ability of a human being to enter into the life experience of another, walk in their shoes, and then envision what life is like for them.  Call it imagination of the heart. Mercy. 

We see another person in trouble or hurting or threatened or down and out and then switch places with them, ask: "What if that were me?"  What if my kid were sick and I could not pay for their care? What if my cancer treatment had caused me to lose not just my health but my house too?  What if the next time I visited the doctor's office the question I dreaded the most was just one seemingly innocuous inquiry: do you have insurance?

Health care for all.  Health security for all.  Health and hope for every last child of God and American citizen. With just a little compassion maybe, finally, we will one day imagine that. 

I can.  Can you?


1 comment:

  1. Getting health insurance might include simple privileges and slight discounts, but it'll take a lot of pressure from your hospital bills. We'll never know when we'll be needing health assistance, but it's good to be ready. :)

    Hershel Duffey @