An Open Letter To President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I am one of the 46 million Americans that are said to not have health insurance. I say “said to” not because I actually have it and am lying, but because I don’t trust numbers, especially coming from politicians. I understand we’re all set for a big public address this evening touting your efforts on reforming health care in this country. You say it’s essential that we rein in health care costs, that every American has access to health care and those are noble aspirations. But speaking as one of the uninsured, read my next sentence very closely. If the proposals currently be bandied about in congress are the best our elected representatives can come up with, do us all a favor and don’t bother.

The entire exercise is flawed. What we truly need is access to affordable Health CARE in this country, not mandated universal Health INSURANCE. There is an enormous difference. Health care is about treating the sick or the infirm, health insurance is about mitigating risk and maintaining a nice profit margin. There’s nothing wrong with that, insurance is a business. As such, they have no moral imperative to engage in practices that damage their bottom line. The problem will arise if this industry is still allowed to operate as a business when every man, woman and child in this country is legally required to buy their product under penalty of law. At that point, they cease being a business and become a social program, one with very few checks in place to prevent it from increasing its profit margins on all of our soon-to-be-legally mandated shoulders.

I don’t have insurance for one simple reason, I can’t afford it. I had insurance until my small business went under about a year ago, due in part to the inability to get financing thanks to the very banks that you’ve handed hundreds of billions of dollars to solve their problems. Where exactly do you think I’m going to come up with the (minimum) $2,500 a year buying insurance will take? I’m a single man with no dependents working two jobs to just barely keep my head above water with all the bills my defunct business has left me. I’ll make somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-35 thousand this year, far beyond the point where I’ll be able to get any assistance with the premiums at all, but not nearly enough to continue to pay off my debts and throw an extra three grand at Blue Cross. I think it’s safe to say that if these mandates pass, you will be fining me for non-compliance. I’m not a rich man who chooses to take advantage of public assistance. I simply cannot afford it. And food, shelter and paying down my debts comes before health insurance in any calculation.

As one of the uninsured, I’ve heard people like me described as both victims of and leeches on the system, depending on who you happen to be talking to. I think we’re all victims. We’ve come to believe that insurance is synonymous with actual health care, a private industry that takes advantage of people’s fears and health problems to make a very nice return on our money. Any health care reform that doesn’t include massive restrictions or reforms of both the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry will be an abject failure. All it will accomplish is to pull everyone into their extremely profitable racket, and I will bet the house that premiums will not go down, but increase and quickly. After all, they would then need no further pretense of competition. We would all be a captive market.

Any plan absolutely must have some sort of check to private industry if we’re all going to be required to participate. You can’t have it both ways; either let market forces dictate insurance rates and who can afford to be insured and who can’t or make it a giant social program that protects everyone but is no longer a private industry. I am not a socialist liberal who believes government knows best, nor am I a right-wing conservative who’s morality is dictated by religion. I’m just a guy who has bills to pay and a life to lead. And nothing I’ve heard thus far from the debate on health care sounds anything like a solution. It sounds like a choice between a government takeover or a giveaway to an already bloated problem industry. Again, perhaps doing nothing is preferable to either of these choices.

Don’t get me wrong here, for all the ills of the insurance industry, we are also to blame for abusing insurance, using it for day-to-day medical needs rather than for those serious, emergency cases that it was designed for. We may have been encouraged in this by our doctors, our insurance companies, and our government itself, but we are still ultimately to blame. The answer is to shift this discussion away from getting everyone locked into an industry designed to extract large profits from our health and well-being and back to being focused on the actual care. Insurance is just that, something to have in case things go horribly wrong. For routine care, we need to get back to taking care of and paying for that ourselves.

I would like to think that our best minds could come up with a solution that works. After all, our’s is a system of compromise. Like when our legislators accept absurd amounts of money from corporations and lobbyists and then form committees to best determine how to compromise what the people really need. Our elected representatives compromise themselves and their judgment the very moment they accept even one dollar from someone who has a vested financial interest in whatever piece of legislation is currently being considered. You are responsible to people first, not the corporations or organizations who provide the front money to allow your two political parties to maintain its stranglehold on power. But all too often, that’s not how it works.

Every few years, we the people have a “watershed” election for change. We send a mandate to congress that we want things to be different and we are tired of the same old self-serving act. Then, a few years later, we once again have another election for change after realizing that those we voted for were just the same wolves we had before in different clothing. You were elected because the people were sick of the status quo and want change. It’s up to you to show us that this time is different, that we don’t need to be preparing for the next election for change in a few years. And right now, from where I’m sitting, it sure looks like all we accomplished last November was to exchange one political party’s line of B.S. for another.

If I had been required by the government to pay the exorbitant health insurance premiums over this past winter after my business went under, I would have lost everything I ever had. Instead of being able to scrape by and claw my way back to some semblance of stability, I would have ended up living in my mother’s basement because that $200-300 a month for mandated insurance would have been the difference between getting by and getting run over. It still would be. You have said that no American should lose their home or their life savings because they get sick. I would add that no American should lose their home because of they are required under penalty of law to pay over-priced insurance premiums.

Mandated coverage is not the answer unless the question is how can we take already at-risk people and add even more strain to their lives. And it’s a premise I’d like to remind you that you campaigned vehemently against during the Presidential election process. Was that your true feelings or just more worthless rhetoric designed to gain opinion poll points? Show us it’s not.

Health care for all is a noble goal, one that we should pursue. But what’s the hurry? It doesn’t appear that we have even the slightest idea of what will work or what won’t, or how much any of it will cost. Slow down. It’s better to do nothing now and come up with an idea that actually makes sense before we act. The proposals we have now don’t achieve that end, and could conceivably be far worse. Thank you for your time.

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Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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