Jul 17, 2009

Taking "the fear" out of health care

Well folks, the fight is on. Health Care for America Now reports:

Both the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee in the House have passed the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, the House's health reform bill.

We have now officially made it farther than Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. It's historic.

What does that really mean for us?

I’ve gotten no excited phone calls from family. No emails from friends. Nor would I expect to. For most Americans, the goings on of Congress appears to be part of a distant and removed world that has little to do with us.

But with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the Finance Committee, still advocating a tax on employer-provided health benefits (which for most people would be many additional thousands of dollars per year you’d be taxed on), it’s time we all start paying attention to what our representatives are advocating for on our behalf and how it will impact the way we live our lives.

On the eve of the 4th of July, I sat in the emergency room with one of those this-probably-isn’t-going-to-kill-me-but-I-really-can’t-wait-until-Monday illnesses. My regular doctor was unreachable because of the holiday weekend, so there I sat with the rest of the dog-bite and garbage-disposal victims of DC waiting to see whatever doctor I could because there are no walk-in clinics in the entire city if all you need is a prescription on a Friday night.

Sitting in the waiting area, I got that familiar creeping, nervous feeling I always get these days around hospitals and doctors offices.

Now, I’ve never minded getting check-ups. My mom is a nurse and I got used to being poked and prodded as part of diagnostic routines early in life. There was a time when doctors’ offices were pleasant places associated with lollipops and colorful plastic models of things like the ear canal that I could play with while she chatted up old colleagues.

The creeping feeling comes from a time when I didn’t have good health insurance and going to the doctor was terrifying not only because I never knew how much it was going to set me back, but I didn’t really want to know what they were going to find. After all, if you’re pretty sure you can’t pay for future treatments, what is the point in knowing you have something horribly wrong with you?

That’s past now. I’ve got good benefits now and because of my union contract, I know those can’t just be taken away at any moment.

Still the fear is there. And despite whatever logic I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise, so is the “I just don’t want to know.” It’s become ingrained.

I know I’m not the only one that struggles with those thoughts. Not only is it bad for our economy for sick people to go without care, but it undermines the vision of self-empowerment and achievement that is at the heart of the real American dream.

As groups on all sides gear up and the TV pundits take to the ring to duke it out and discuss ways to water down the strong provisions of the House bill for the entertainment of the primetime audience, let’s not forget what these reforms actually will actually mean. You know, to real people.

To me, it means my future kids aren’t going to have “the fear.” For my sake, I’m beginning to think it might be too late. Even with the best possible reforms, I think much like my grandmother who never really got over the Great Depression anxieties that drove her to hoard Tupperware and foodstuffs, the folks of our generation who have been burned by the current health care system are going to have a lot of healing ahead to get beyond a sense that our bodies are imperfect timebombs waiting to bring us to financial ruin.

Beyond all the rhetoric and political agendas, there is something real in this. With a strong public health insurance option and guidelines for employer responsibilities, we can make change that will bring justice to our health system and just a little bit more freedom back in our personal lives. Now we’ve just got to make sure our leaders in Washington don’t lose sight of that as the summer grinds on.

Give your representatives a call. Remind them you exist and that they are supposed to represent you, not the interests of big insurance companies.

Contact information for Max Baucus:

Max Baucus Phone 202-224-2651

Max Baucus Fax 202-224-9412

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