20 January 2011

Thoughts on the Healthcare Debate, Part III


Speaker Boehner taking the Oath of Office
The ink still drying on last year's historic health care legislation, the first action taken by the new House of Representatives was to vote on its repeal, which passed.  If you're concerned by this, don't panic and if you think this is some kind of victory don't get cocky because the Senate is more likely to discuss what MC Hammer had to say about Jay-Z last year than it is to take up the repeal.  Like Speaker John Boehner's first action (a full reading of the Constitution of the United States), this was a dog and pony show meant to demonstrate how "seriously" he takes his job representing whoever it is that he represents.  I know it's not me, because he clearly despises everything I value.  (Also, I'm not a resident of Ohio.)

The inherent problem with the GOP position is that it views health care as a commodity to be enjoyed by those who can afford it rather than a basic human need.  They erroneously conflate capitalism with democracy, as though we're still trying to distinguish ourselves from the godless commies of yesteryear.  You know what happens when you don't help the sick and injured?  They stay sick and injured, or they seek treatment in emergency rooms that cannot legally deny them and then those bills go unpaid.  Rather than actually doing something about this problem--which isn't solving itself, despite GOP wishful thinking and willful denial--all Speaker Boehner, et al, have brought to the table is indignant grandstanding about concern for the "burden" to be passed onto hypothetical future generations.

In any event, I think even those with the most hopeful outlook on the future of American health care expected the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be eventually treated like every other well-intentioned government program: gutted whenever possible by legislators whose benefactors stand to gain from its ineffectiveness.  Funding will be stymied and legislators who will never experience the effects of their actions firsthand will pride themselves on "doing the right thing" by thwarting this at every turn.  This is a microcosm of our entire political system and I'm afraid that the greatest nation on Earth has revealed itself to be petty and short-sighted, fighting not over how to combat a major problem, but whether we should do anything at all.

There is one more aspect of this "debate" that has not received any significant attention, and that is the effect that this has had on those who actually stand to finally gain coverage.  Most people don't know what it's like to have their entire lives derailed by changes in their health.  They don't know what it's like to be told that every aspiration they ever had is now nothing more than a fantasy; that their reality will henceforth revolve around lab tests, visits to doctors and that their good days will be the kind of uneventful days that everyone else finds mundane.  The message from Speaker Boehner and his supporters in Congress has been unmistakable: You are unwanted.  You are a burden, and we would be better off without you.

Does it sound like I'm taking this personally?  If so, it's because I am.  You'd better believe I take health care personally.  It's not about abstract ideas over how paternal the federal government should be.  My life has already peaked; I can hope that tomorrow isn't worse than today but I know I will never again have a tomorrow as good as yesterday.  The only thing that stands between me and complete hopelessness is the security of having medical coverage--coverage that was legally withheld from me prior to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.  So, Speaker Boehner, when you presume to speak on my behalf I would appreciate it if you could admit that you do not, in fact, have my interests on your mind.  If you did, you'd have something constructive to say instead of wagging your finger that some kid yet to be born might be (gasp!) taxed to help fund a system in which I--and he or she--won't be left out in the cold.

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