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I have tried to stay out of the health care debate, mostly because I know that my opinions won't change anyone's mind. I do have a bone to pick with a doctor's comments I heard on NPR the other day, however.

The doctor was responding to a piece where young uninsured people were commenting on the things they'd let slide because they didn't have health insurance. He was quite offended at the story and said that if twenty-somethings would stop buying iPods and smartphones and would stop chasing the latest fads, they'd have the money to afford health insurance, and that the money that they would spend would have a much better impact on their lives than the luxuries they think they can't live without.

Really, doctor? Is that why you think young people don't have insurance?

When I moved to St. Louis, I was leaving my job as a copy editor where I made $9 an hour for a job selling advertising for $10 an hour (which changed to 12 percent commission after six months -- and, let me tell you, that did not always work out to $10 an hour). Both of these jobs required a college degree, both of these jobs were working among people who were vastly overqualified and underpaid, and neither of these jobs left me with any extra money for a decent health insurance plan.

And clearly, it wasn't as though I was spending all my money on something frivolous rather than my health. I didn't have internet at my apartment. I didn't have cable. I kept the thermostat at 65 all winter long. I housed my hand-me-down microwave on a $10 record player stand from Goodwill. I lived on Sunbelt granola bars and store-brand yogurt. When Mike and I ate out, it was 5 for $5.95 roast beef sandwiches at Arby's. We shared a cell phone plan, and had the cheapest phones Cingular sold that still had a camera.

But I always paid my student loan payment and my rent on time. I paid for my car, and together Mike and I paid for our new shared auto insurance. The lights and the gas were always on, and we bought Christmas presents for our friends and family.

And still, the only health insurance I could afford had a $5,000 deductible, did not cover pregnancy and expired, ineligible for renewal, after six months.

If I had gone to the doctor to have her look at any of the things the people listed in the NPR feature, the cost of the visit and the ensuing medication would have meant that something else would not have been paid. So as you can imagine, I, like the interviewees in the news piece, didn't go to the doctor, even when I needed to, because I decided it was more important to keep the lights on.

So yes, while there truly are people out there who buy gadgets and designer purses instead of health care, there are more people on the other side of the story. I know that there are plenty more people out there, people like the Abbi of 2004, who do their best to get by and pay the bills that need to be paid. At the end of the day, there just isn't enough money left over for anything that isn't an immediate demand with a bill collector at the other end.

The idea that some doctor should look down his nose at the uninsured/underinsured twenty-somethings and make a sweeping statement about their financial situations is infuriating when I think about how hard I worked for so little, and how many are in the same place. I hope that he would be similarly infuriated if I were to sit here and say that he was out of touch, just like all overpaid snobs who can't see a world outside of their luxury cars and vacations to tropical locations and demands that everyone speak English fluently because they live in America, dammit. I won't make these judgments on him, but I do wonder: would he feel the same way if it were his kids who, despite their best efforts, were barely scraping by? Would he feel the same way if it were his kids choosing between buying food and getting their teeth cleaned that month?

I'm trying very hard not to judge this guy who decided these judgments on people he didn't even know. I actually had to wait a while to write this until I cooled off (I was going to pull the car over and write an e-mail to NPR on my phone the very minute I heard the comment, but I refrained, afraid of what I might say in anger). But the attitude these comments expressed reaffirms to me how people talk about policies and seem to forget that there are real people with real problems who are affected by the policies. It may be your debate, but it's somebody else's life.


( 5 in harmony — strike a chord )
Apr. 12th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. This kind of compassion and attention to the personal effects of political decisions is all but missing from this debate in so many arenas. :)
Apr. 12th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
When Nate and I were first married, we could only afford a very high-deductible plan. Now we have one by choice, but back then, if something major medical had happened, it would've meant either months of ramen and rice, or not paying my tuition bill. We also didn't have faster than 1M internet, no cable, and were using lines off my parents' phone plan. I think the majority of uninsured/underinsured aren't that way because they're frivolous.
Apr. 13th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
When I moved in with Mike, we made too much money, so K and I lost our medicaid. I looked at private insurance plans and found out that I could get a plan for ~$300/mo. However, it would not pay a cent on any of K's asthma medications, nor any of my medications. Our medications totaled over $300 already. So I could either buy my child medication for asthma or get medical insurance. I opted for the medication since that was probably going to do more to keep him healthy. We're just really lucky that we didn't end up with any medical emergencies in the year and a half before Mike and I married.
Apr. 13th, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I really like this post and can totally relate to it. I pay a ridiculous percentage of my monthly salary for health insurance... and (as you know) I'm afraid to go to the doctor because I never know what they're going to charge me for. I'm currently staring at a $120 bill from the doctor when I went in for a check up and to get prescriptions refilled... something that was supposed to be covered by my insurance and shouldn't have cost any more than my co-pay...
Jul. 5th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
I support your ideas and I am glad you reacted to that doctor's statement, I would have reacted too. Most of people without insurance didn't chose to be uninsured, they simply couldn't handle the tough times and they need as much help as they can get. I have my health insurance in Montana and I feel lucky that I found it affordable. We've come to feel lucky that we can afford to pay for something that's our right...
( 5 in harmony — strike a chord )

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