Can I talk to you for five minutes about health care? Last night, while I was trying to find Frankie Muniz’s E! True Hollywood Story, I accidentally stumbled upon MSNBC and was deeply disturbed by what I found there. If Keith Olbermann and the channel’s other intolerable lesbian are to believed, it seems a healthy percentage of the American populace spent the final month of their summer at community centers heaping invective on the government overlords responsible for their respective townships. The cause of their ire is, from what I could ascertain, a strong affinity for or hatred of doctors.
For me, the MSNBC report raised two immediate questions. One, hasn’t the invention of the television made “Town Hall” meetings obsolete? Two, isn’t it time someone punched that smirk off Rachel Maddow’s face? When I got done thinking about those questions, I thought of a third: What?
Since politics is one of the few subjects that confuse me more than the work of Tyler Perry, I usually make it a point to stay out of it and make fun of the people who care. However, when it comes to health care, I feel I have a valuable perspective that can help clarify this convoluted issue. During their broadcasts, I heard Mrs. Olbermann and Mr. Maddow implore their viewers to imagine what it must feel like to be one of the 40 million uninsured Americans who live each day with one foot in the Walgreens and one foot in the grave. Well I don’t have to imagine what it’s like, I live it every day. I am one of those uninsured Americans. You want to know what it’s like? It’s awesome.
Three months ago I took a job with a company on the West coast that provides healthcare for their employees but only after they endure a 120-day probationary period. I am still in this probationary period and am therefore not yet regarded by my employer as fully human. Thus, no health insurance. When I was informed back in June that I was about to be deprived of one of my basic, inalienable rights, I had some concerns. Would I have to stop driving like a maniac? Should I befriend a drug dealer who kept valium in stock? Would it be prudent to reduce my frozen pizza intake? As it were, I did not have to do any of these things, and my summer could not have gone any better.
Living without health insurance adds a visceral, raw element to daily living that is all too often lacking in American life today. Walking out your front door – heck, even sitting in the safety of your own dryer – becomes something it has not been since suburbs were invented: an adventure. Mundane activities like running errands, merging onto the interstate, and visiting 3rd world countries are infused with danger. Suddenly, every moment spent out of bed is packed with courage and peril.
Consider these facts – the single greatest contributor to bankruptcy is medical emergency; I am highly allergic to bees and, if stung, would require immediate hospitalization; there are many bees where I live – and you will begin to see why walking the 50 yards from my apartment to my mailbox makes me feel like a contemporary conquistador. Death and financial ruin are lurking in every bush. It may not impress Frodo Baggins, but it’s a heckuva lot more exciting than life was when my employer was covering 80% of my medical expenses and I could get prescriptions for $4.00.
The problem in America today is not too little insurance but too much of it. We have car insurance, life insurance, and home insurance. We insure our appliances, our pets, our hand guns, our collections of post-cubist, neo-impressionist oil paintings, everything. We’ve become a population who won’t lift a finger until we are assured someone else is picking up the tab in the event of fire, theft, or stampede. We are limited by our fear of liability.
Think if Christopher Columbus had refused to sail off the edge of the earth without first securing reasonably priced insurance for the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Think if Shakespeare decided not to write any plays until he had a good lawyer to protect him from all the Jews he was offending. From merchants to mariners to matadors to Forrest Gump, our forebears were able to accomplish great things because they understood one immutable principle: stuff happens (you’re welcome mom). You can spend every day avoiding it, insuring against it, and insulating yourself from it. It’s still coming and it’s still going to suck. Why spend a lifetime hiding from it?
I’m not going to lie; living one bee sting away from bankruptcy is terrifying. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for people with spouses, children, nice boats, or professional ambitions. I, on the other hand, have none of those things. So, I will continue savoring the jolt of adrenaline I get every time someone sneezes on me. My quickened heart rate reminds me that, while I cannot afford the co-pay, at least I still have a pulse. Call it foolish, call it reckless, call it what you will. I just think America could do with a little more balls-to-the-wall living. Life without health insurance got me there. Perhaps it will get you there as well.
Or maybe you should just quit wearing a seatbelt.