Healthcare Status Quo is Not an Option

January 22nd, 2010 at 11:42 am | 8 Comments |

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I have read all day about the democratic process in action in Massachusetts. I’m a little puzzled that one state’s special election matters more than last year’s national election (especially when the Democrats ran an appalling candidate), but I agree that Scott Brown changes the healthcare reform equation. Yesterday, FrumForum pictured Obama as “the biggest loser” and maybe he is. But I wonder if the real losers aren’t working Americans who would like affordable insurance.

A few years ago, The New York Times reported that an unprecedented percentage of American males between the ages of 30 and 55 had dropped out of the workforce and didn’t plan to go back. Some of the men were living on the equity in their homes (good luck with that, the story’s from 2006), some were living off their wives, and some had been kicked out by their wives. According to the article:

[T]he fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes. The disability stipends range up to $1,000 a month and, after the first two years, Medicare kicks in, giving access to health insurance that for many missing men no longer comes with the low-wage jobs available to them.

No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance.

The ailments that qualify them are usually real, like back pain, heart trouble or mental illness. But in some cases, the illnesses are not so serious that they would prevent people from working if a well-paying job with benefits were an option.

In my extended family, I have two relatives (both female) who have also left the workforce, although one was over 50 when she dropped out. Both were well below retirement age, and both are now covered by Social Security and Medicare. The last part of the excerpt –”the ailments are real but not so bad that no job is possible” — strikes me as particularly accurate in both cases. I am more familiar with the case of one relative, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 15 years ago. Her problem is real, and she fended off a challenge from the insurance company paying her long-term disability (the insurance company eventually settled with her and she used the money to pay off her condo). However, she is still able to walk, talk, drive, go shopping, go out to eat, go to concerts, even vacation in Europe. In fact, she is planning her fourth European vacation since dropping out of the workforce. She simply can’t work. Her symptoms are apparently exacerbated by stress, and she finds most situations she does not like stressful. She has not worked in over a decade, and her Medicare kicked in before she turned 50.

And in the time both of my relatives have been out of the workforce, they haven’t gotten any healthier — or less expensive to the healthcare system. Disability-securing health problems of multiple sclerosis and back pain have multiplied, and now include morbid obesity, diabetes, hypertension, thrombosis and breathing difficulties. (When you don’t have to work anymore, there’s no reason not to slide from occasional smoker to chain smoker.) One has become an exceptionally heavy drinker.

To be fair, you have proposed ideas for reform, and have warned fellow Republicans against preserving the status quo. But I fear that preserving the status quo is exactly what Republicans, with their new “majority of 41,” plan to do. And the situation I have just described is precisely the kind of perversion that the status quo enforces.

I work full-time. I volunteer. I was mildly overweight for several years, and cleaned up my act after I got a bad lipid panel result, so I have exercised for 10 hours a week for the past six years to keep my BMI at 20. I have seen a doctor just three times in the last 18 months. I cost the healthcare system very little. Right now, my health premiums are pretty affordable (Kaiser offered through the university where I work) but if I lose my job, I could be in dire straits. If I wind up working for a small employer, as I have in the past, my premiums could be exorbitant. And God help me if I develop a preexisting condition. In short, as a working American, I’ve got no guarantee of affordable health insurance in the long run.

And my relatives who walked away from the workforce, who will never work again, whose lifestyle-induced problems are snowballing? Their healthcare coverage is guaranteed.

Right now, convincing the system that you’ve got a disability and dropping out of the workforce is a surer path to long-term health insurance than getting up and going to work every day. Maybe that weird numbness in my hip or my past-their-prime knees or that stubborn case of tennis elbow or the gnawing anxiety about what the future holds qualifies me for disability, too. Maybe I’m a fool to keep working. Maybe I deserve to sleep in every day, recline in front of the TV when I do drag it out of bed, complain about “all those illegal aliens taking advantage of this country,” and let some other sucker rise before dawn each morning and help keep the country afloat. You and I both know that, in today’s political climate, nobody in either party is going to touch Medicare.

And in the crowing over Massachusetts, I don’t hear a single Republican addressing this. Maybe I have missed it. But isn’t the GOP the party of responsibility and rewarding honest, hard work? Republicans frequently talk about responsibility, but talk is cheap. At the end of the day, you get the behavior you reward.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    But isn’t the GOP the party of responsibility and rewarding honest, hard work?

    No – the GOP is the party of protecting wealth.

    Often wealth does come from honest, hard work. So there is some measure of consistency.

    But much of the wealth in America today has little to do with hard work on the part of those who hold it … and there are many many in America who can work phenomenally hard and never accumulate much wealth.

    There is a Republican answer for them. Don’t get sick.

  • Health Care Reform Still Matters | Republicans United.

    [...] M. Scott over at Frum Forum reminds Republicans in the wake of the Scott Brown win that health care reform still matters to many Americans including many Republicans: I work full-time. I volunteer. I was mildly overweight for several years, and cleaned up my act after I got a bad lipid panel result, so I have exercised for 10 hours a week for the past six years to keep my BMI at 20. I have seen a doctor just three times in the last 18 months. I cost the healthcare system very little. Right now, my health premiums are pretty affordable (Kaiser offered through the university where I work) but if I lose my job, I could be in dire straits. If I wind up working for a small employer, as I have in the past, my premiums could be exorbitant. And God help me if I develop a preexisting condition. In short, as a working American, I’ve got no guarantee of affordable health insurance in the long run… [...]

  • rbottoms

    But I wonder if the real losers aren’t working Americans who would like affordable insurance.

    Sorry son, all that matters is winning in November.

    The hell with you and your relatives. If you need health care try begging in the street. That seems to be the Libertarian/Conservative solution.

    Recently a commenter named Personal Failure asked:

    What happens when private help isn’t available or isn’t enough? What then? My husband has MS. He needs medication, tests, doctors and treatments, but he was rescissed by his insurance because he failed to disclose a blow to the head as a child. (Does not cause MS.) He can get his MS meds free from the company, but those meds are known to cause liver damage, and he can’t get liver function tests for free, so he can’t take the meds. So there he is on the couch, too dizzy to walk the dog, let along work. Libertarianism works great- until you can’t work.

    I have thought long and hard about an answer. Here is part of the answer below. More is coming, but I try to keep each post around 500 words.

    I do not want to minimalize the situation that you find yourself in. It stinks, plain and simple. My heart goes out to you and your husband. I hope that he has the remitting kind of MS and that he enters remission soon. I would first like to ask a series of questions and then conclude with a comment about your last sentence.

    Have you sought a legal remedy against the insurance company? It sounds like they have violated their contract. Libertarians are against anyone’s doing that.

    Have you asked your friends and family for help? Perhaps each of your close friends and family members would be willing to pay for one liver test per year.

    Have you asked a church or other religious body for help? In my hometown there is a network of churches known as the Community Ministries that provides all sorts of resources to people in need. Maybe there is something like it where you live.

    Have you held fundraisers or, better yet, asked a close friend or family member to hold fundraisers on your husband’s behalf? That is often done for people with chronic illnesses.

    Is your husband a member of a support group? Perhaps they know of a foundation or private charity that could help him out.

    Has your husband thought about ways that he might still be able to make money from home, perhaps part-time? If that is not possible, please forgive my even asking the question. Last year I was struck with a debilitating condition that I thought would make it impossible for me to work anymore at my job. I told my wife that I might have to stay home from school and try to write a book or offer private music lessons or private tutoring to struggling students. Fortunately, my condition is under control–at least at the moment.

    In the meantime, I have no problem with you and your husband availing yourself of any government programs for which you qualify. You helped pay for them, after all. Although I would like to see most public welfare programs reduced or abolished, you might as well benefit from the ones that are operating now.

  • BoolaBoola

    GOP health care plan: if you need surgery, go get it done in Mexico.

  • mm232

    Typical neo-con propaganda. Take an article from the fascistic NY Times, whose readership is virtually nil, because it doesn’t represent the facts it’s former readership expected. They take a single instance, of a person who happens to be an American citizen, to dismiss the realities the majority of American citizens are experiencing. Citizens aren’t “walking away” from their jobs, they’re being fired, so employers can replace them with cheap foreign labor. They continue to look for work, and take what they can when their benefits run out. Some can’t even get a minimum wage, part time job, and when their benefits expire, they are no longer counted as unemployed. Do stop looking, and what that means is they give up on going to the unemployment office, because scrolling through the listings for jobs they will be denied, because, they are American citizens has become pointless.

    I know an engineer, highly educated and skilled, who has always kept up his certification and skills who works at a Lowes. Not because he was a lousy engineer, but because his employer wanted to replace him with an inept, less educated, less skilled H1B, from India, who he learned after the fact, was the brother in law, of another inept, less educated, less skilled H1B from India, who’d replaced another highly educated and skilled American citizen.

    What one hears from former AIG employees is, that the formerly stable and secure company, went off the rails when it became co-owned by Indian nationals. Bleeding billions of dollars of spending to India, at the demand of the Indian co-owners, who pocketed the money, and started splashing it about, trying to hide the expenditures as “advertising to get more Indians to buy insurance”. The bottom fell out before they could buy a half interest in a British rugby football team. Neo-con greed is so overwhelming, that they blind themselves to the fact that it will destroy them as well as the citizenry of the US that they disdain.

    Sorry, but we’re not going to accept the neo-con/left wing scam of so called health care reform, with it’s Mengele inspired death panels, as a prop so your much loved cheap foreign labor’s health care can be subsidized by citizen tax payers. I’ve got news for you, the citizenry isn’t stupid, and we recognize you for what you are. You aren’t going to hijack our country, and you aren’t going to impose the status quo you desire on us. Again, take your roadshow to another country, as your days of influence and power are long over.

  • DENNIS SANDERS OP-ED:Health Care Reform Still Matters - Hip Hop Republican

    [...] M. Scott over at Frum Forum reminds Republicans in the wake of the Scott Brown win that health care reform still matters to many Americans including many Republicans: I work full-time. I volunteer. I was mildly overweight for several years, and cleaned up my act after I got a bad lipid panel result, so I have exercised for 10 hours a week for the past six years to keep my BMI at 20. I have seen a doctor just three times in the last 18 months. I cost the healthcare system very little. Right now, my health premiums are pretty affordable (Kaiser offered through the university where I work) but if I lose my job, I could be in dire straits. If I wind up working for a small employer, as I have in the past, my premiums could be exorbitant. And God help me if I develop a preexisting condition. In short, as a working American, I’ve got no guarantee of affordable health insurance in the long run… [...]

  • LittleDEM

    Thank you for your post. I, too, am becoming concerned, and it is unclear why anyone would think the status quo when it comes to healthcare is anything BUT totally and utterly unacceptable. I don’t quite get why people still fail to see that fact. It’s like a train wreck in slow motion . . . It’s still a train wreck in the end.

    On the Massachusetts race, being a Massachusetts resident I’m inclined to defer to President Obama’s explanation when he said something to the effect that ‘ . . the same circumstances that swept Scott Brown into office are the same circumstances that swept me [President Obama] into office’. I wrote a much more detailed assessment of the Special Election results in Massachusetts on LittleDEM.com . . .

    http://LittleDEM.com/2010/01/assessment-of-the-massachusetts-senate-race-ma-masen/

    . . . but the President’s explanation is at least one explanation that explains the whole result. Yes, there are implications. But the causal factors can not as easily be projected into the future as some on the Right make them out to be.

    And that’s — fundamentally — before you return to the matter of Healthcare Reform and stare into its beady little eye. Simply put, Republicans need to help solve this problem, and Democrats need to lead. (I know, I know. Someone is going to complain, saying Republicans have tried to help, but I’m sorry ‘Death Panels’ can hardly be considered a contribution toward solving the problem.) A failure of either Party to do their best in working to effect meaningful Healthcare Reform will yield a devastating blow to the American People, possibly even in the very near future.

  • JonF

    Re: Some can’t even get a minimum wage, part time job, and when their benefits expire, they are no longer counted as unemployed.

    This is not true, though it’s often encountered in these arguments. The unemployment stats do NOT use the benefit rolls as a basis for calculating unemployment. People not collecting benefits still count as unemplpoyed as long as they are still actively looking for work.