My Car/My Cancer

I have been feeling very uncomfortable this week because of the overwhelming anger of some Americans over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the insurance mandate of the Obama care Program. I do not have health insurance. I currently am the recipient of charity to cover my extensive medical treatment for cancer. I am unable to afford insurance based on my health and other risk factors.

I insure my car because I must have car insurance. I also have a car loan and it is required that I have insurance to protect my lender’s collateral interest in the car. It’s sad that I can afford to insure my vehicle in case I injure myself or others while operating it, but I cannot insure myself. I am, after all, the most important asset that I possess.

I work for several educational institution employers, none of whom feel it necessary to offer me assistance in acquiring health insurance, even though I usually teach as many courses for them per semester as a full-time professor does. They get to choose my designation as full- or part-time and have chosen to categorize me as a part-time employee, often based on the amount of time required for administrative duties. They also pay a very low salary to their part-time faculty, much lower than they pay to full-time professors.  Some have estimated that close to 50% of higher education courses are taught by part-time faculty.

Much has been made of the fact that employers should not be required to insure their laborers, or even aid in the payment of their insurance premiums. It is a burden on small businesses to pay these costs. It makes it difficult for them to compete with other businesses if they must contribute to the employees’ insurance costs. That makes sense. Labor is an expense that employers seek to minimize, just like materials, utility expenses, administration and overhead costs.

I have read about how angry people are that they will be forced to buy insurance or pay a tax (some call it a penalty). None of the angry people who have written or spoken have announced that they do not want health insurance. Many of them are members of Congress–all of whom have health insurance made available to them and their families.  They can choose from approximately 300 plans, all of which offer immediate coverage with no limitations for pre-existing conditions. The government pays 72-75% of the expense. When I say that the government pays, I mean that my tax monies and yours pay those premiums.  So, it’s okay for tax money to be used to pay for insurance for some, but not others, to be insured.

It must be nice to work at a place that can afford such excellent coverage and so many choices. Of course, the government does not compete with the private sector so the cost of this coverage is not a burden to the government. It is a burden to the taxpayer. I may not be able to afford health insurance, but I pay taxes so that others may have health insurance.

I have no idea whether I will be able to afford health insurance in 2014. If the Obama care Program is still in effect, there will be no single-payer system like so many other countries offer. There will continue to be competition among insurance companies. The inclusion of people with few health risks in the group of insureds should lower the cost of insurance for some because the pool of insured people will include many who will have few claims due to their good health.

I suppose that the young and those in excellent health may resent the fact that they must have insurance in the future. I suppose that some of them are resentful already at the prospect. There are poll results that suggest women and youth oppose the program, even though they are expected by the program’s supporters to benefit from it. Yet I have not read a single news story or commentary written by a young person who would prefer that people like me die of cancer or be saved by charity to having me pay for health insurance. Indeed, the only opinion I read objected to the plan on grounds that it might encourage abortion. I can remember being young and not having health insurance. I often had insurance through my parents’ employer, my employer, or my ex-husband’s employer. But there were years when I did not. On more than one occasion I was sick and did not seek treatment. I often went without regular dental or eye care. I don’t recall thinking that it was my right as a free American to not buy insurance. I wished I could afford it then, too.

If I did resent the fact that my tax money paid for health insurance for children or pregnant women or senior citizens, I cannot recall it. I grew up in a conservative Republican home. I can remember thinking government was too big. But I never thought that people should die because I should be free of the burden of paying for their health care.

There are some signs that the public is willing to begin the process of implementing the Obama program:

According to a poll released this week by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 56 percent of Americans believe opponents of the law should “stop trying to block its implementation.[“] Just 38 percent of Americans said opposition should continue. But that 38 percent is very well funded and speaks loudly. It seems to me that many Americans fear that the plan will prove expensive to the nation and many Americans fear that in this economy they are precariously close to becoming uninsured themselves. Loss of employment triggers rights to COBRA continuation coverage, but that coverage is expensive. It is not right that employers bear all of the costs of insuring their workers when they, too, face an insurance/medical system that cannot control costs no matter how many efforts are made to lower the cost of healthcare. As a nation, we need to work on modifying the delivery of medical services to all citizens to reduce the cost of keeping people healthy.

I paid taxes that paid for emergency care for starving people in foreign countries. I paid taxes for military intervention in matters involving disputes between other countries, sometimes for disputes between other countries and their own people. I paid taxes for education even though I never had any children of my own. I paid taxes to finance public transportation for people who could not afford to use it without government subsidies. I paid taxes for many programs that did not directly support me.  I thought that was my civic duty and that such sacrifices were part of the price of freedom.

I have paid taxes as an employee and as an employer, too. I have paid sales taxes on my consumption. I have paid capital gains taxes. I have paid penalties for accessing my pension funds early. I have paid penalties when I have let my meter run out.

Why is healthcare different from all of these other programs undertaken by government for the general welfare of the American people? It’s not. It may be for some the straw that breaks Uncle Sam’s back. Philosophically, many favor a smaller government. They have the political right to object to the plan. But the Congress has voted and they have lost. It is time that we explore what can be done to ensure that those who cannot afford to buy health insurance can afford it.

If some can pay to insure their cars despite the fact that they have never caused a car accident so that those who do cause them can afford to buy insurance if they own cars, then someone else now in excellent health can pay health insurance premiums so that others who need healthcare and could not otherwise afford it can afford to buy health insurance. It does not make sense to say that driving a car is a privilege but living is not and so warrants less protection and less responsibility. I could argue that insurance for cars makes more sense than insurance for cancer because driving a car is risky and being diagnosed with cancer is not, but I am not unintelligent, simply uninsured.