So I’m using a glib medical quote from one of my very favorite movies because I’m about to wade into the great medical coverage debate in America. If that’s not your cup of tea, please feel free to stop reading now. I won’t take offense at all.
Many of you know, but many of you probably don’t, that I took early retirement from my company – my only employer in my adult life – last summer after 33 years on the job. There were a lot of things that factored into my decision (and that may be my next blog) but the primary one was that I wanted to spend more time with my great kid – who will be headed off to college sooner rather than later – and my wonderful parents who are in relatively good health but are 83 and 78 respectively.
And I’ve truly enjoyed this time with them and been able to do many things I had never had time to do before. I went back to work when my son was 6 months old and had never been able to take more than a week off at a time to be with him and that had been weighing heavy on my heart. When my sisters and I grew up, we were so blessed that my mom was a school teacher in our school so when we were off, she was off. There was no child care issue, no worries about managing who would do the school drop-off or pick-up, no stress about not being able to be present at events great and small, when being present was sometimes the best gift you could give your kids.
One of the primary reasons I was able to make my decision to retire early was that I’d be able to continue getting my health care coverage under their program, even though it would no longer be subsidized by the company as many companies do for their employees. Premiums would go up; I knew that and factored that in but I had worked at my company for a long, long time and knew that my employer would want to make sure that its long-term retired employees would always have access to reasonable and affordable health care.
Boy, was I naive.
Things changed and many have told me that what someone – or some entity – promises to you cannot be held as gospel. Yes, it’s a different world now than it was a few years ago and yes, health care costs are skyrocketing for many reasons, some controllable by me as the patient but many not. But – at least to me – a promise is a promise is a promise.
I was one of the lucky ones, it turns out. I was able to find new health coverage through a trusted advisor and, although my insurance premiums still went up considerably, at least I have health coverage and pretty darn good coverage at that. Turns out many other folks that I knew and worked with for many years couldn’t. Pre-existing conditions and/or too expensive. Sad, sad, sad. (And only knowing that one day my sainted mother might read this prevents from using far more colorful language).
Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you like but I truly believe that affordable health care in the greatest, richest and most blessed country in the world should not be a luxury that one has to make a decision over. It should be a right. If we can’t ensure that our poorest, our youngest, our sickest are given access to health care, then our country will go bankrupt. Because every dollar spent providing preventative health care to people will ultimately save our health care system from later spending who knows how many dollars treating illnesses that could have been prevented if someone had access to good medical coverage.
Anyway, the reason I’m so all fired up about this today is that I was made aware of someone with a young family who’s lost their health care coverage and now – because of budget cuts and decisions made by New Jersey’s new governor when he vetoed a bill that would have provided health insurance to low-income families – they has no access to any health insurance at all. I know times are tough in our world and I know that difficult decisions have to be made on every level of government. But c’mon, do we really want to have our emergency rooms filled with people going there for routine health care issues, like vaccinations and colds and flu and strep throat and ear infections because they don’t have any health care coverage?
We pour billions of dollars into unwinnable wars. We see bills introduced into Congress with so much pork attached to them that our government officials should be ashamed of themselves. We focus on minutiae (by the way, how is Lindsay Lohan managing in jail?) and ignore the important stuff. We think who won the weekend box office at the movies is more important than the fact that we have 10% unemployment in this country (and unemployed people don’t have health insurance). We think our problems will get solved by doing the same old same old. We are ceding our lives and decisions that will either enhance or serve as a detriment to our health, our happiness, our future and our children’s futures to other people who seem not to have anyone’s best interests at heart except their own.
Doing the right thing is usually not popular and, unfortunately, Congress – and probably state and local governments too – seem to be filled with people focusing on winning the next election. I want to be inspired by our leaders, not tuning out because you can’t hear the message for the chattering talking heads. (And – speaking of the great Talking Heads – some of their lyrics lend themselves to this debate. When it comes to life and our health, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.)
And so I step off my soapbox and hope and pray that I am never in a position where I have to decide do I see a doctor or pay my gas bill; or do I get my medicine or pay my rent? I am a very lucky woman and a very blessed one too but that so many people struggle every day with these kinds of decisions makes me sad and discouraged. We can do better than this for each other, folks.
And please tell me that we will.