Getting sick is fiscally unhealthy
December 20, 2003
“If you have your health, you have everything.”
That expression was a favorite of my elderly grandmother when I was a boy. I assumed she was senile.
It is interesting how many of those same pronouncements that as children seemed ridiculous make perfect sense to us as adults. To my young mind, if you had your health what you had was, well, your health, nothing more. You didn’t, for instance, have a go-cart, BB gun or a new football.
My grandmother’s attitude toward wellness was indicative of her era and upbringing. I was too young and healthy to understand her wisdom.
To her (an Irish immigrant) if you weren’t sick or injured in America, all things were possible. She spent much of her life working in factories or in the homes of the wealthy. Her generation ruined their knees and backs performing manual labor I would damage mine recreating.
My grandmother walked with a limp due to a broken bone that was never set. She had horrible vision until her late 70s, when my father paid for cataract surgery. She lived in a heartless era in which poor people who got sick or seriously injured often died or were disfigured.
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Health care has come a long way since my Grandmum’s day. Today, medicine and science have extended the lifespan and cured what was once thought incurable.
But also in America today, when the working class is seriously sick or injured they don’t necessarily die – they lose their homes and assets.
We live in the richest nation on earth. We live in a country so wealthy we can afford to invade and reconstruct two separate nation states while spending $1 billion a week in the process. Yet despite our great abundance, we live in a land where it is not so uncommon for working Americans to lose everything to accident or illness.
I’m not just referring to the plight of the poor. Actually the underprivileged have it better than the middle class. They have few assets, no homes to attach.
There are places were the destitute can receive free care. But for the vast middle class – those who work, pay taxes, and even have insurance – it is very likely that a devastating illness or injury will leave them and family with nothing (if they’re lucky) except their health.
I contribute to about five or 10 fund-raisers a year hoping to raise money for locals with health tragedies. Often these are people with jobs and insurance who are forced to choose between paying their deductibles or paying their mortgage.
We cannot even begin to consider ourselves a great nation when it is still possible for our working citizens to be financially ruined by bad health.
I realize that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. As little as 20 years ago, affordable health care and insurance was a reality. Today, we are in a crisis situation. I’m going to say something that many readers will consider a dirty word: Hillary.
At the beginning of Bill’s first term in office, Hillary Clinton was charged with researching a national health program. She was fought every step of the way by a Republican Congress, PACs, and the insurance industry. Some would argue that her plan was unworkable and unrealistic. I don’t know if it was or not.
What I do know is that since then, our leaders have done very little to provide a viable alternative. Instead, with over 40 million Americans unable to afford insurance and millions more under-insured, our leaders spend their time squabbling over social and partisan causes like same-sex-unions, abortion, and school prayer.
The recent Medicare bill just passed in Congress did little more than place a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. Our politicians should spend less energy debating a woman’s right to choose and more on making sure the elderly are not forced to choose between medicine and groceries.
Creating a universal health plan is a daunting task. It would need to include funding for public health education, preventive medicine, as well as being fiscally realistic.
It would certainly step on the toes of many large political contributors and special interests groups and could be a political liability to any leader brave enough to address the problem.
Opponents argue that the care would be inferior to what we now receive. It seems that everyone against national health care knows someone from Great Britain or Canada who contend that their program does not work.
I, too, have friends who are patients and even physicians in a nationalized program who maintain that although the program is not perfect, it at least provides basic and preventive care that many could not afford in a “for-profit” system. But even conceding that the care might be less comprehensive, it would still be a vast improvement over the choice of whether to pay your bills or deductible.
The sad truth is – I’m paraphrasing my Grandmum here – “In America, if you have your health you have everything, except maybe your home and bank account.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge. His e-mail address is email@example.com.