Can we have an honest discussion about health care freedom?

By Vicki Dunaway of Depoe Bay, Oregon. Vicki works part-time as a substitute mail carrier and office assistant to a local nutritionist.

Being forced to pay a giant corporation for health insurance, as will be required under the Affordable Care Act, is certainly not my idea of freedom. On that I agree with the Tea Party. However, being forced to pay a giant corporation for health CARE, with or without the benefit of insurance, is not exactly the epitome of liberty, either. Nor is going deep into debt to a big bank to pay medical bills.

Face it. We no longer live in the days of big families and 40-year lifespans. In order to live long and healthy lives, we have to pay someone for medical care. Some are lucky enough to have old-fashioned employers that provide health insurance, but that group is shrinking rapidly. The rest of us are thrown out into the market jungle to fend for ourselves. After working and paying into health insurance plans for over 40 years, I had to drop my health insurance a year-and-a-half ago because the premiums for my high-deductible plan sucked up over one-third of my income; on top of that were the co-pays and deductibles, as well as the cost of helpful alternative therapies that are not covered at all.

When it comes to Obamacare, I wish I had the freedom to pay into a government-run public option insurance plan, which would have a huge base over which to spread risk, bringing premiums down. I wish that public option (and Medicare) had the freedom to negotiate lower drug prices, as any ordinary business would. Those choices were completely denied to U.S. citizens by the ‘free market’ ideologues who controlled the debate over health care reform. Advocates of single payer – Medicare for All – were never allowed a voice in the discussion because our public representatives so feared the fury that would rain down on them from our corporate overlords in the health insurance and hospital industries, not to mention Wall Street. In the land of “free speech,” single payer advocates, including doctors and nurses, were arrested and removed from hearing rooms for attempting to get a word in edgewise.

Given a real choice, I would choose Medicare for All. Like Social Security, we would all pay into it and we would all receive benefits. If I had paid into Medicare for All instead of private plans for the past 40+ years, I would still have health care coverage. Medicare for All would give us the freedom to move from job to job, or from state to state, without worrying about whether we would have health insurance. We could work part-time or start a new business without risk of losing health coverage. Some may choose to stay home with the kids until they are school age; others may decide to begin farming. We could be free of drastic increases in premiums because Medicare has no greedy shareholders demanding ever more return on investment. With our current system, this sort of freedom is unimaginable! We are slaves to the 40-hour work week for the sake of having health insurance. (A coalition of groups is working to improve our health care options: Health Care for All Oregon.)

In 1983, the "conservative" Reagan administration raised Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, to prepare for the retirement of Baby Boomers. Those of us who were working age – the Baby Boomers – paid for our parents’ Social Security and also helped to build a huge surplus for our own retirement through that tax increase. Then, in the early 2000s, George W. Bush and his anti-tax cronies gave our surplus away, mostly in the form of tax breaks for their wealthy friends, despite intense opposition to doing so among economists and the public. Unfortunately, most people have only a vague sense that we have been robbed.

Yes, Medicare for All would mean higher taxes. But you know what? The second definition of ‘tax’ is “a burdensome charge, obligation, duty, or demand.” It’s awfully taxing to pay an insurance company $400, $500, $1000 per month without being sure of coverage, and knowing that it will all go “poof!” if you leave your job or can’t afford to pay. It’s taxing for employers, especially small businesses, to have to cover their employees with constantly rising insurance premiums. It’s taxing for doctors to be forced to hire extra staff members solely to navigate labyrinthine insurance claims systems in order to get paid. It’s taxing for society to pay for emergency room visits by people who cannot afford to see a doctor before an illness becomes urgent.

Why do we keep torturing ourselves?

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