Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Health Care for "Poor People"

Woven among the various reasonable arguments against health care reform was the complaint, “Why should I have to pay for health care for people too lazy to get it themselves?”

This, “blame the poor” argument is so cruel and ignorant it nearly takes your breath away. It’s just another example of how a personal bias can sound like the obvious answer - facts be damned.

The health care horror stories I’ve personally encountered in recent years have nothing whatsoever to do with poor or lazy people.

Last year I wrote about my friend, I’ll call her Cindy, who gave up her health care policy when she could no longer afford it. Cindy is a private business owner. She works at least 10 hours a day and often longer, at least 6 days a week. Each year as her health insurer raised rates (though she was healthy and never made claims), she increased her deductible to keep it affordable. Eventually her deductible reached a whopping $10,000. So she didn’t show up in the statistics showing tens of millions in the U.S. without health insurance; that is until she eventually couldn’t afford even that either.

Not long after I wrote about Cindy I got a mass email from a Noblesville health care reform opponent. It was authored by a doctor who described a derogatory stereotype of an African American, inner city “welfare queen,” and then asked, “And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman's health care?”

It would be so simple if that’s what health care reform was all about – a distant, threatening, lazy minority. But it isn’t. The Doctor apparently isn’t aware that the average family living below the poverty line in America has at least one adult working full time.

Another Noblesville couple I know, I’ll call John and Sherry, also work long hours as private business owners. When Sherry needed radical dental surgery they didn’t even consider getting care in the U.S. They have dental insurance, but it came with a annual cap that wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of the multiple surgeries Sherry needed. So John and Sherry made two trips to Costa Rica and three trips to Mexico where Sherry was treated in first class facilities by American-trained doctors for less than a 3rd the cost of care in the U.S. (including the cost of travel). That they felt they couldn’t afford care right here in Indiana is nothing less than depressing. That they found it so inexpensive in a nearby and otherwise backward country is demoralizing.

Yet, in the Let It Out sidebar of the Indianapolis Star, over the past year I’ve read comment after comment moaning, “How can Obama make me buy health care for lazy people?”

That's an oversimplification on steroids?

Cindy and John and Sherry aren’t lazy or poor people and their problems with our health care system have nothing to do with how hard they work. The problem is a marketable product (health care) that doesn’t operate very well in a free enterprise system. That’s what my friend and client, Ben encountered.

Ben is also a private Noblesville business owner who found himself doubting he should purchase a home because of our dysfunctional health care system. A few weeks before closing on a modest Noblesville home he found he needed a heart stint procedure. In the years previous, he’d been paying an ever-increasing rate for health insurance. As a result of the procedure, he feared his insurer would raise his rates even more. The procedure went well and he got good care here in Noblesville, but he now knew he couldn’t shop for a new policy because he had a pre-existing condition. With so much financial uncertainty, should he buy a house?

He decided to go ahead with the purchase the same day President Obama signed the new health care bill into law.

As Ben and I stood outside the house chatting about his dilemma, he told me about a friend of his in a depressing, dead-end job. The friend is bright and hardworking and wants to quit his job and start his own business, but doesn’t because he’s afraid of leaving his family without the insurance his dead-end job provides.

So much economic activity has been strangled by our screwed-up health care system. And most of the problems have nothing to do with “lazy poor people.”

Remember just a few years ago when bankruptcy laws were reformed making it harder to file? TV and radio talking heads and politicians attacked bankruptcy filers as people living beyond their means, racking up debt they knew they could never pay back, “people who think the world owes them the good life.”

But a recent study conducted by Harvard University found that in reality 62% of all personal bankruptcies in America are caused by medical bills. And here’s the killer - 78% of those people who filed for bankruptcy because of medical bills had health insurance when their illness began.

This doesn’t happen in countries with a national health care system. And these aren’t just numbers, they represent thousands of destroyed lives and devastated families every year.

But still last week I saw someone post on Facebook, “I think the government should just stay out of health care and not take money from me to pay for lazy poor peoples health care.”

Complete and utter ignorance. And with so much blatant evidence to the contrary, it’s willful ignorance.


  1. Sadly, what you say is very true. Real people are suffering because of a broken system. The fix is not perfect but it's a step in the right direction...a good step.

  2. Couldn't agree more, Kurt! I'm in a similar boat - not long out of college, work hard, just bought a house, my husband's insurance cost $400/month for me because I'm in "child bearing age," even though I plan not to have children. That is a nearly a week's worth of work - just to cover health insurance! I had to get insurance through my work (a small not-for-profit) that costs so much and covers so little, I seriously considered going without it!! I would much rather have the reform and HELP others in the same situation. I agree with Doug - a good step in the right direction!

  3. Thank God someone is saying something positive for once. I'm tired of everyone dogging this reform. If you talk to folks from Denmark, they're very grateful for their government-ran healthcare and how it takes care of ALL.