America In Action

Advanced warning: this one is much longer than the 1,000 word limit. 

On Monday a student asked me what I thought of the government shutdown, and I had to embarrassingly admit that I had no idea what he was talking about. I had been grading papers all weekend. 1529784087_1373614272

But since then—since then! I’ve been educating myself. Oh yes. Half an hour of Google searches later, and—once again!—I’m ready to solve our problems.

Actually, I’ve been pondering and vaguely researching and having conversations about the healthcare reform for the last several weeks/months, trying to get a grasp on what’s happening and trying to form an intelligent opinion.

And the conclusion I’ve reached is that the common opinion–that a small faction of the Republicans are holding the government hostage over Obamacare–is a woefully reductionist perspective. What is actually happening is  complicated and complex, but I think it’s fantastic, because it is something distinctly American.

I’d like to start with a video by John Green. You can watch it, but I’ll summarize. Healthcare in the U.S. is freakishly expensive, and there’s not a really good reason for it to be that way. Of course, most of us don’t need a video to tell us that. Anyone who has been admitted to the hospital knows intimately and personally how expensive that can be.

When my son nearly drowned, he spent the night in the children’s ICU. He received minimal drugs (IV fluids and antacids), had some blood taken and analyzed, and had two x-rays taken. It was very little “treatment;” mostly observation.

The bill was six thousand dollars. Roughly $330 an hour.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of things to consider. The first objection to the expense is that I only had to pay one thousand dollars because the rest was handled by insurance. But this is not really the case. I pay for insurance, ergo, I paid for the care. In fact, I’ll pay for more than the care, because one of the basic, irrefutable facts about health insurance is that it makes healthcare more expensive for us as a whole. The insurance company is going to make a profit, and so is the hospital.

Insurance is like the lottery. A few people get lucky: most lose money. Unlike the lottery, however, insurance is usually worth it. Something as complicated as healthcare, as John Green points out, needs a system to pay for it that is different than our usual method of buying things impulsively because we’ve been sold advertisements shopping around for the best deal. you can’t shop effectively when you’re shopping for a kidney—or for your son’s lungs. you pay anything and everything to get what you need.

The problem, as I see it, is that our current system of private insurance failed to provide an adequate check on the natural inflation of price that arises because of the high demand on the product provided by the healthcare industry. What is needed is a bargaining tool for the consumer: something or someone to say “no, that’s an unreasonable price; I’ll pay this much instead.”

There’s a lot of pointing fingers to identify the cause of the problem: the insurance companies tried to maximize profits, the hospitals could not develop a reliable system for charging patients, pharmacies and medical supply companies overcharge for simple things, patients sue doctors like crazy when something goes wrong, people take advantage of the emergency room and programs like medicare. Eh, who knows which one is more to blame (or if its something else entirely). I think that placing the blame is less important than facing the reality.

The problem is there was a high demand and the money was pouring in from everywhere. So the prices got jacked up. People took advantage of the situation, like people do. Logan has more concrete information on this.

Now, one solution to this problem, proposed by the Obama administration, is that we let the government step in and bring things under control. The marketplaces are a first step toward that idea, and will almost certainly end in a single-payer system. And this will probably solve the problem of affordable healthcare. It’s worked in other countries: the U.S. is not that unique. But, I don’t like it because it gives our government a lot more power over our lives. I believe in the American ideal that a government should be easy to overthrow. A government that is in charge of our healthcare has that much more power. Also, a government that pays for our healthcare has by default a certain level of authority concerning our health, and that is a bit of a scary idea for me.

So I have two conclusions coming out of this mess. The first is that, like John Green, I think that something has to be done. In an ideal world, the free market and capitalism would succeed in providing quality healthcare at a reasonable price. But they haven’t here. They failed—and you can make the argument that the game was rigged (I might listen to that), but capitalism clearly failed to accomplish those goals. So something has to be done, and when capitalism fails, it’s the government’s turn. If you don’t want the government to step into an industry, you have to run that industry with efficiency and integrity. I have no qualms in saying that the healthcare industry has not been run with efficiency and integrity. (Though I’ll admit that maybe the consumer is as much to blame, in some situations, as the provider).

So, I see our government as having the authority to step in with a heavy hand to revise a situation that is doing harm to its citizens; however—however!—I’m happy to see the republican House step in as well. Because I’d like to see a private industry do things right. I’m reluctant to hand this power over to the federal government, and I’m willing to give the businesses that the republicans are representing one more chance at making a workable system. And that’s what I think is happening. The House is doing what it can do, and what it should do, in the American political system to check the power of the executive branch and the other half of congress. It’s in charge of money and our government is organized in this way for a reason. Because if we want to make a drastic change to our society (like federalizing healthcare) that needs to happen slowly.

So, Obamacare might get postponed (I doubt cancelled) and maybe we’ll get a chance to try something else first. Or maybe it will get modified. Or maybe, after a few days of closed-door meetings, the republicans will acquiesce, and everything will go forwards as it had been planned.

But I’m ok either way. Something is going to happen, something that will make America a little better, I think. And I think that the message has been sent to both of our institutions that have the power to fix this situation. To the businesses, we’ve sent the message “look, the government is going to take over because you’ve made a hell of a system here.” And to the Federal Government we’ve said, “I think you’re forgetting that this is America, and in America, when we think the government is trying to take too much power, we shut it down.”ox769

And I like both of those messages.

I believe that this situation is an excellent example of the American government working. You heard me right, working. Because it’s supposed to be hard to accomplish things in Washington. Right now I’d be comfortable voting for both parties, because they’re both trying very hard to actually do something

Part of a Conversation I had with Logan while composing this:

Me: But I’m right about the House republicans right? They’re doing what they’re allowed to do, shut down the money to check the power of the rest of the government?

Logan:  Oh yeah.  It is about obamacare and the idea of a bigger government just keeps getting bigger.  Republicans are butt hurt and rightfully so I think.  There was not a single Republican who voted for the Health care act.  They have felt marginalized.  Now is their chance.  Obama should talk to the tea party leading members.  There is a large population out there that has been zeroed out since 2009.  There has been no political reward despite the gains in 2010 and the maintaining of that power in the 2012 elections

The current political situation is not, as some would have us believe, a case of Democrats trying to be all progressive and Republicans trying to be (as usual. . . sigh) full of hate and anger. This is the minority party fighting the power of the majority the way they’re supposed to. They wouldn’t deserve their votes if they didn’t. Obama wouldn’t deserve his votes if he didn’t fight it the way he will.

It’s America in action and it’s glorious.


About Derrick

Derrick lives and works in South Carolina where he teaches English at a technical college and raises his two small children with his wife, Danielle.
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