The other day, I admitted to a friend that I don’t have health insurance.
“What?!” he gasped. “But you’re married. Isn’t that part of the deal?” He reacted as if I had just told him that I believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or a flat tax -- something embarrassingly ridiculous. Because that’s what being uninsured is these days -- a character flaw. It’s how you can pay taxes, volunteer, donate to public radio and still be considered a drain on society.
As my friend was, you may be wondering, “Seriously, how can you not have health insurance? Don’t you work? Are you illiterate? Do you have no self-worth whatsoever?!” The short answer is, my husband and I are both freelancers so we have no workplace insurance. And the $500-plus monthly premium? You might as well say our health depended on our adding a new wing to our apartment.
The uninsured are a puzzling group for California lawmakers. Telling the uninsured not to be uninsured, for example, is the solution they came up with. And taxing smokers (banking on their inability to quit but sufficient longevity to make it profitable) to pay for the poor is how lawmakers proposed to fund it. They called it ABX1 1.
This wasn’t good legislation. Good legislation has supporters; ABX1 1 had apologists. And it came to an ignoble end last week, killed by an 11-1 vote in a state Senate committee.
Even though I’m not for radical change, I do favor radical improvement. ABX1 1 was neither. It came around on its face: It appeared that the cure was the same as the disease.
Personally, I make above $47,000 a year, the cutoff for subsidized policies under the plan. I also live in a city where median home prices are still about half a million dollars. Now, while Countrywide Financial Corp. may have happily approved me for a loan a couple of months ago, that doesn’t mean I have any money. So the mandate to buy insurance would have fallen on a lot of broke ears, not just mine.
Healthcare costs in this country, according to the World Health Organization, are the highest in the Western world. And the chasm between medical care for those with money and those without is potentially deadly. I once had a plantar wart that was near-fatal. True story. Some people gamble at casinos for kicks; I eat uncooked fish. There isn’t a moment that I don’t know that I am one accident or diagnosis away from complete financial ruin. Where are the riots? Where’s the outrage? Didn’t Michael Moore do a documentary on this?
The uninsured and the underinsured need true political advocates. There’s only one way I see that happening. We should force all our elected officials in California to live uninsured for at least 2 1/2 months of the year. Believe me, healthcare will get reformed quicker if their lives and livelihoods depend on it. One in five Californians are uninsured -- so all our elected officials should be uninsured for one-fifth of the year until they fix the problem.
What good would that do? In 1993, San Francisco passed a nonbinding measure encouraging public employees from the mayor on down to take public transit at least twice a week. How’s that city’s transit system now? Among the best in the country.
People take vows of poverty to learn humility. People fast to learn gratitude for abundance. People live off the grid to teach themselves -- I don’t know -- candle-making skills. Living uninsured can teach our elected officials to care for the healthcare system. (Lesson one -- negotiate drug prices. There are more Californians than Canadians. Hint. Hint.) Call it a fact-finding mission. Make it sound heroic. It’s no more absurd than what they came up with.