National Underwriter has covered the healthcare transformation in this country intensively since before it was a glimmer in the Democrats’ eye, through a long and intense political battle, through the many legal and legislative challenges the Republicans threw at it afterward, and to the present, through an uneven implementation period. And during all of that time, we have tried to remain objective about how we cover an issue of such massive importance to the country, and to our readers, whom the new law affected directly (and for the most part, negatively). We often were excoriated by readers for failing to excoriate the legislation itself, as if to say that failing to attack the law is by default, supporting it. That is not the kind of binary logic journalists adhere to (unless you’re part of a cheerleading squad, like MSNBC or FOX News), but there you have it.
What was interesting about the angry letters we received – and most were addressed to me personally – was that the letters usually had little to say about our actual coverage or the tone of it, and instead went into what the reader found most distasteful about Obamacare. A lot of these letters just hated how the law overturned their business. Fair enough…one of the things I found most worrisome about the law was how it decided that if anybody could afford to take a kidney punch over this, it was the insurance industry. And not just any part of the insurance industry, but its agents and brokers, the ones who were contributing the least to the sincerely messed-up state of health care delivery in this country. But I digress.
Another common complaint was that Obamacare was socialist. This always got under my skin because the word socialism has been co-opted from what it originally meant, as a political term. In political science, I was told that socialism, as a form of government, is when the government owns the means of production. Venezuela is a good example of a bad socialist country, as the petroleum industry is owned by the government, and the regime there uses its petrodollars to suppress dissent. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is a good example of a good socialist country, as the petroleum and health care and education industries are all state-owned, the country maintains no standing army, and its primary export is for people to enjoy one of the world’s last remaining virgin tropical rainforests. Seriously, Costa Rica is a wonderful place. Please go visit it. But I digress again.
Socialism, in an Obamacare context, has been twisted into meaning “too liberal for my own tastes,” which I wouldn’t mind so much if the word wasn’t seemingly chosen to liken liberal politics with scary foreign ideologies. You know who else were socialists, don’t you? That’s right…the Nazis. It’s that sort of thing. Obamacare is a lot of things, but it’s not a stepping stone to totalitarian control. Even if the government really wanted to inflict that kind of tyranny, it would hold a once-and-done vote on it. Voter turnout is so low the thing would be carried by about a thousand votes, either way. But, I digress, yet a third time.
Normally, I’m more focused than this, but I have just come off of a four-day stint of one of the nastiest viruses I have ever encountered, and it has left me feeling like a husk of my former self. It started last Wednesday – a week ago from today – when I went to my mixed martial arts class and started doing push-ups, only to note that my shoulders felt like I have been doing bench presses all day, when I had not been. The following day, I was such a zombie in MMA class that when we put on our pads and sparred, I might as well have written the words “TRAINING DUMMY” across my headgear. The next day, the fever sweats came, as well as a full body ache. And then, the headaches. Imagine if a giant pressed thumb into your temple as hard as he could for about five seconds. And then he repeated it for a total of three or four times a minute. And then he did that for the next three days. It was like that. There was virtually no eating. There was no meaningful sleep. (And during what little sleep there was, where were disturbing fever dreams of such wild variety, I consider it a kindness that I really can’t remember any of them.) There was a constant quest for the maximum safe daily dosage of ibuprofen and any other home remedy that might relieve the pain. By Monday morning, if you told me that sucking on a frog’s leg would relieve the pain, I would have had one in my mouth faster and more enthusiastically than one of those old-timey rainbow lollipops.
When I finally saw the doctor on Monday, they couldn’t’ tell what was wrong with me. Might be a virus, they said, but no clue which one. All they could do was take some blood to make sure it wasn’t Lyme’s Disease, and give me some antibiotics in case it was some kind of ear infection. I was in so much pain at that point; I was unable to make many sound decisions. I took the script to get filled and my end came out to a paltry $10. But the medicine was $160. This is why having health coverage is fantastic, and why it is worth paying what I pay for it.
But what if I didn’t have it? Then I was out another $150. No biggie, really. I do not get sick often, and at this point in my life, I can afford the very occasional $150 unexpected medical fee. But as I took a hot shower that night, and as the pain momentarily subsided, I thought, what about people who couldn’t afford that medicine?
And that brings me back to another area of complaint we often got when it came to Obamacare. It was on the edges of the socialism complaint and the argument was, essentially, that it’s unfair that people who work hard and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps should have to pay so that people who haven’t worked as hard can enjoy something at the expense of others. In short, Obamacare isn’t fair.
I have friends who are small business owners. And they are beyond angry at what Obamacare imposes on them. They hate that the government is having any say at all in how they take care of their employees. And these are folks who very much like to think of themselves as people who built what they have with their own hands. In cases that is true. In some cases, that is not. But they too rail against how unfair it is that they should have to work hard for what they have – including access to decent healthcare – and that someone who has not worked as hard automatically gets a free pass.