The end of my summer sucked. On the first Saturday of August, during a visit from my two teenage cousins, I broke my left wrist at a beach in Malibu. Under the advice of my physical therapist, I will tell you that it happened after I punched a shark in the face.
It happened; ask no one.
After the appropriate “Thank you, Cousin Matt for saving our lives.”, I went to the E.R., had my arm set, went through an endless network of referrals to find a surgeon, had surgery to get a plate and two screws put in, and am now in physical therapy where I’m forced to listen to modern country music for 60 minutes while squeezing play-dough. So far: this has been the worst part.
Without health insurance, the surgery alone cost $28,000. Including co-pays, additional fees, and the cost of an out-of-network E.R., the final total has come close to $30,000, which was what a semester of public college cost when I was a freshman. It’s insane to think surgically repairing an essential body part and taking bong rips while rehearsing Death of a Salesman has cost about the same during my lifetime. But that’s the country we live in. Health insurance may seem like a pointless expense to some, but it’s the only way in to gain access to decent healthcare in The United States of America.
I knew my wrist was broken the minute it happened. My second thought after it happened was “Thank God I upgraded my Obamacare to Silver this year.” For those who don’t know, Obamacare subsidies are categorized in 3 groups: Bronze, Silver, Gold — each group grants the policyholder a certain amount of care for a certain amount of cost. For years, I carried a low-cost Bronze level plan through Blue Shield with a high deductible, and upgraded to a Silver plan through Anthem Blue Cross — having grown tired of multiple out-of-pocket expenses. I’m in my mid-thirties. I decided I’d eat the monthly cost of the upgrade for better care. I’m obviously glad I did; had I stayed on my old plan, I would’ve probably had to pay more for my surgery than I do in my rent. I live in Los Angeles, a city currently struggling with wage stagnation — despite job growth — and contributing to a state-wide housing crisis. I already have enough debt problems from just trying to survive here. Adding a four-figure surgery expense would’ve pushed me to consider some serious lifestyle changes (in truth, I already was before the injury).
I still owe money on my surgery, just not as much as I would owe without my current plan — which I may not have in 2018. Why? Why would I give up a health plan that saved me from financial ruin? I’m not giving it up, it’s being taken away from me. And for good reason, just take a look at this email I received from my health insurance back in July:
Obamacare is not perfect, like any law. I’m lucky that California has one of the best state Obamacare exchanges in the U.S. But it could stand some fine-tuning in other parts of the country. Several states — thanks to their members of Congress — still don’t have state exchanges, forcing those Americans to rely on the federal exchange, which was always meant to be a safety net, not firm ground.
There appears to be an agreement between Democrats and Republicans that access to healthcare needs to be improved. However, judging by every effort to repeal and replace Obamacare — including the current Graham-Cassidy Bill — the Republicans don’t seem interested in investing the time and effort to create that access. It took President Obama 18 months of research, negotiation, and accreditation to get The Affordable Care Act passed into law. Since President Trump took office in January, the Republican Party has failed twice to jam through repeals that were written in secret or written in haste. The Republicans’ sloppiness has created an incredible amount of fear amongst health insurers — amongst them, mine — and has forced them to withdraw multiple plan options from state and federal exchanges.
I guess this is what conservatives mean when they say “Trust the free market.”; the free market, in this case, being a bunch of rich, white guys secretly writing laws that won’t affect them because they’ve never had to worry about the cost of a doctor’s visit or where their next paycheck is coming from. Meanwhile, the businesses the new laws would affect are trying to avoid being blindsided, so they’re forced to play defense — leaving millions of Americans without the assurance of healthcare.
The New York Times reported this summer about how plenty of Americans believe they have a right to healthcare. They don’t want to see Obamacare go away, but they do want to see it changed to offer better care at lower cost to more people. It’s astonishing — given how polarized our country currently is — that we can agree on that. To be frank, it gives me a ton of hope.
And yet, today in D.C., Senators Lindsay Graham and Bill Cassidy are trying to pass a bill that ignores those voter requests. Their bill would do everything that the other repeals have tried to do: dismantle Obamacare’s infrastructure, reducing federal spending on affordable healthcare to $0, kill the individual mandate that requires all Americans to carry healthcare — which could open a loophole where employers stop offering health benefits to their employees in order to save money.
But the most distressing aspect of the Graham-Cassidy bill is also the most ignorant. The bill would give states leeway to design their exchanges as they see fit, and assign funding to exchanges via block grants. Ah yes: states’ rights; that old Civil War chestnut. As I mentioned earlier, several states already lack exchanges due to obstacles created by their members of Congress and their governors. Now, along comes a bill that says “Hey, great job, guys. We’re going to let you do whatever you want now because it’s no longer legal for anyone to have health insurance. And on top of that, here’s a ton of taxpayer money to spend as you please — just make sure it kind of, sort of looks like healthcare.”
Block grants, in short, are quick fixes the Republican Party has triumphed since the Nixon administration. They didn’t work in 1969 and they still don’t work in 2016 or 2017. Block grants ascribe to the same conservative ideal that people know how to spend their money correctly so let them do it. But here’s the problem: why would a state with no affordable healthcare resources suddenly start developing them? What’s the motivation to create access to healthcare when they’ve already deprived it from people for 3–7 years?
If that sounds distrustful, it’s because it is; there’s no reason to believe politicians who’ve historically acted against the interest of their voters will suddenly change their tune. For all the valid criticism Republicans have lobbed at The Affordable Care Act, their answer has been a boilerplate set of policies that have a deep history of modern failures. Where is the thought leadership or concern of country these guys often claim to have?
As I wrote earlier, Los Angeles — like many American cities — struggles with wage stagnation against job growth. Finding a decent place to live without getting 2 roommates is hard to come by. And yet last week: the latest iPhone — an essential piece of technology in 2017 — was unveiled with $1000 price tag. Within a year, smartphone competitors will probably be a similar price. Here’s the blunt truth: it’s hard to survive in America; the cost is going up, but wages are staying the same. And nothing is being done about it. Americans today believe they have right to live a healthy life without going bankrupt. I am grateful to have a working wrist again without going bankrupt. And yet, if you were to ask Lindsay Graham, Bill Cassidy, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, or plenty of other Republicans currently in power, they believe in taking the right to good, affordable health away from Americans. Just look at what they think are viable alternatives.
Why they still believe in failed policies, I don’t know. Why they don’t want to put in the time and effort to fix peoples’ live, I don’t know.
Why they don’t want seem to understand the realities of our country, I don’t know.
If you would like to tell them, give Congress a call at (202)225–3121. Ask to be connected to your representative, followed by Senators Graham and Cassidy.