To deal with the demands and rigor of everyday life, one must find a place to occasionally escape. Fortunately for me, that place is in my own home. It all started with a whimsical vision that came to me whilst I was delivering the U.S. mails one day. As you descend my basement steps, you see the first hints of my mad thinking. Large words on the wall proudly proclaim:
DICK'S ROCK HARD SALOON: COME ON IN FOR A STIFF ONE!
As you round the corner there stands one of the, in my humble opinion, coolest basement bars ever created. The idea was to incorporate my vast vinyl record collection (over 1,000) into the design of my personal tavern. With shelves of every kind of music in the world, all in alphabetical order, my guests can pick out a record to listen to while enjoying their favorite adult beverage. I have only four stools, but a church pew is against one wall for the spillover crowd. Don't worry about any religious overtones, though. At DICK'S we worship by bending our elbows, not our knees!
One day a while back, after work, a close friend of mine stopped by for a visit. She brought along a friend of hers so naturally we headed down to DICK'S to chat and quaff a cold libation or two. I threw on some Humble Pie and mixed the ladies a couple of Obamatinis, a drink I learned from a bartender in Chicago on the president's Inauguration Day. The conversation turned political and at some point Sarah Palin's name was uttered bemoaningly by Madame Dick. My friend replied that she rather liked Mrs. Palin and many of the things she stood for. Her friend also agreed that Mama Grizzly was a "pretty cool lady." At that point I veered the discussion into an apolitical direction by shouting, "Who wants to hear J. Geils Live?" I did not make another batch of Obamatinis that night.
This particular friend of mine I have known since we were 12 years old. We have gone through life's ups and downs and remained close over the decades since grade school. In December, she called me with a distressing problem. Her adult daughter, age 21, had gotten seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Surgery needed to be done, but one big hurdle stood in the way. Her daughter, a college student with a part-time job, had no health insurance.
Her husband had planned to add the daughter to his health plan on January 1, under the new rules of the ACA (Affordable Care Act of 2010). Adult children can now be covered until the age of 26. In the past, insurance companies dropped our children from our plans when they became "adults." Well, she had to have the gallstone surgery because of excruciating pain, and on December 15, the young lady went $20,000 into debt.
I had a conversation with my dear friend just recently. It seems that this experience has changed her perception about "Obamacare." She expressed to me that she realizes the importance and the need to make some changes in the health insurance business of this country. If her daughter had gotten sick in January of this year instead of December of last year, I would be writing a whole different version of this story. Now, her daughter starts off her adult life saddled with a cumbersome debt that will take years to pay off. Ironically, this kid works for a hospital part time while going to school. She had to move back in with her parents and give up her apartment when she recovered from the surgery.
In my last column, I talked about myths promulgated during the last election, two Great Myths in particular. I promised to tackle and bust Great Myth #2, one that swayed many voters in 2010: "Obamacare is socialized medicine that is a menace to the American way of life and will add billions to the federal debt while limiting your freedom of choice and killing your grandmother!"
Let's start with the first word. The law has a real name, one that I use and hope everyone will start to use when talking about health care reform. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) is a new law that was drafted by hundreds of lawmakers and policy think tanks. Years in the making, it is remarkably close to a bill designed by Republican lawmakers during the Clinton years. I crap you negative! It is not socialized medicine, either. There is nothing in the bill that talks about a government takeover of anything. Insurance companies will still sell insurance, and doctors and hospitals will operate the way they always have. So, why is the American public buying into this negative rhetoric?
Do you support Obamacare? When asked that question, 70 percent of Americans respond negatively. I like to frame the question instead through a series of queries. Do you believe that your adult child should be able to stay on your insurance until the age of 26? Do you believe that insurance companies should not be able to drop your coverage when you get sick? Do you believe that there should no discrimination for pre-existing conditions? Do you believe that there should be no annual or lifetime caps on health coverage? Do you believe that insurance companies should spend at least 80 percent of your premium on health care? Do you believe that you should be able to carry your health insurance when you switch jobs? When the questions were asked that way, pollsters found some interesting results. In an amazing flipflop, 70 percent of Americans responded positively. All these things are part of the ACA.
While carrying my mail delivery route, I had an amazing insight into the American perception of the new health care law. A small business owner, whom I chat with on a regular basis, started complaining about "Obamacare": "It's a goddam nightmare what that president did with health care. I'll tell ya where the real problem is, it's the goddam insurance companies, those greedy bastards."
I didn't get into a discussion with him - no politics on the clock for federal workers. But it gave me an insight into how we need to be talking to folks about health care reform and this new law. We have not done a good job personalizing the benefits of the ACA. Most people have a disdain for big insurance corporations. Most folks have family, friends, neighbors, or possibly even themselves with little or no health insurance. But most Americans have a distrust of what they envision as Big Government intrusion into their lives. So we need to grab this psychological bull by the horns.
The Republican politicians have had great success throwing around words like "Obamacare" and "socialism." They are masters at framing their message and I have to give them kudos for being so good at it. But I am not going to pull any punches here. They are hypocrites and downright liars. They talk about the evils of big government and socialized medicine, yet only 3 percent of the new Republican congressional membership has given up their own government-sponsored health care.
And let's address Medicare and the VA hospital. Those truly are the pure forms of socialized medicine in this country, especially the Veterans Administration form of medical care. The doctors and the hospitals in that program are directly paid and administered by a department of the federal government. And yet these same nattering nabobs of negativism (sorry, Spiro!) who rail against the ACA, in the same breath talk about saving the great American institution of Medicare, a true single-payer system of administering health care, while taking care of our beloved parents and grandparents. And you better make sure that VA hospital in my district gets its funding as well. All the while, we, America's working folks, don't see the blatant hypocrisy.
And these vitriolic vanguards of vacuous viciousness, the Republicans who are attempting to repeal the ACA, are downright, snotnosed liars. They say this new law will cripple the country financially. They say the ACA will be a jobs killer. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan budget scorekeepers in Congress, recently released a report that said repealing the ACA would add $230 billion to federal budget deficits over the next decade. It would also add another 30 million folks to the ranks of the uninsured. Common sense will tell anyone who gives time to ponder the consequences of expanded medical coverage to millions of Americans that this will be a huge stimulus for job growth, especially in the medical fields. I have reams of facts, reports, and data sheets to prove that the ACA will help our nation and its citizens in the years to come, all from reliable, unbiased sources. But that is not how we will change the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans.
A family friend, nicknamed Good Guy, shared a drink and a thought with me last week. He is a Catholic priest who runs a local parish and sits on the boards of a few Catholic hospitals in the area. I asked his thoughts on the recent health care reform debate. "How could anyone who calls himself a Christian, especially a Catholic, even fathom the notion of denying anyone health care in this country? Are we a nation so immoral, so ungodly, that we let people get sick or even die because of lack of health insurance?"
Three thousand of our citizens died on September 11, 2001 due to those ungodly terrorist attacks, and we hold that day as a remembrance to "Never Forget." Yet, every year since then, 20,000 of our citizens die annually from lack of health insurance. Another 50,000 suffer needlessly from diseases that can be cured. And where is the outrage? Well, my readers, I am outraged. I cannot believe that good folks such as us are bamboozled daily by liars and hypocrites.
My son just moved to Switzerland, Europe's most politically conservative country. He asked me what to expect in the form of health care from this Alpine nation. Switzerland adopted a very similar version of the ACA back in the 1990s. Their President Couchepin, a corporate executive who became a leading figure in the Christian-Democratic Party (the European version of America's Republicans) stated: "A good railway system, a good school system, a good health system - the basic needs of the people - must be handled with a high degree of equality. To have a great sense of solidarity among the people, all must have an equal right - and particularly a right to medical care. Our society must meet that need." Since the Swiss adopted universal health care in the 1990s, that leaves only one country in the Western industrialized world with no national health plan. That country is us.
As this national debate plays out, I hope we all take some time to stop and really consider what kind of nation we want to leave our children. When Social Security and Medicare (God forbid, gasp, single-payer health care!) were introduced, the demonization of "Big Government" was as hysterical as it is now. I cannot imagine any politician vowing to dismantle those institutions. They are pieces of our American Pie, just as universal health care will be in our future. And we will do it in our own uniquely American way. We really have no other choice, unless we want to become a Third World entity.
Hell, that was a mighty long Dicktation. Maybe my longest ever, hope ya stuck with me. As is my time-honored tradition after finishing an article, I'm gonna mosey on down to DICK's for a three-fingered shot of my favorite Kentucky bourbon. As I reach for my favorite Thelonious Monk record, it dawns on me; I like my whiskey, music, and politics on the same level. Straight, no chaser.
P.S. A great resource for anyone wanting to learn about how other countries have established health care systems is T.R. Reid's "The Healing Of America." You'll be smarter for reading it!
Photo: Delivering the mail in Brooklyn, N.Y. afagen CC 2.0