There’s a young man with whom I work with—let’s call him “John”—who happens to share the same predicament which thousands, if not millions of Americans are forced to endure. Twenty-something year-old “John” has a wife and two young children. As the only current breadwinner in his family, John is looking to purchase health insurance coverage for his entire family. The problem “John” has is that he only earns $9.00 an hour (approximately €6.70), while the health insurance offered by his employer is prohibitively expensive.
How expensive? According to the prices listed on the copy of the Benefits (Plan) Selection I obtained, the cost to “John” to cover his family of four with the basic, no-frills plan (with a high deductable between $2,500 and $5,000/€3356 and €6712) is $420.76 (€318.63), deducted from his paycheck bi-weekly. Those of you with a firm grasp of math can immediately see the problem. Earning only $9.00 an hour, multiplied by 40 hours a week, “John” brings home approximately $720 bi-weekly (€536). That means that over half of his take home pay would go to pay for health care coverage for himself and his family. From what’s left over, he has to cover rent, utilities, and basics like food. Because the particular health care option—the only option—the employer offers is so expensive, “John” and other employees have opted to go without.
This personal anecdote came to mind as I took note of the recent vote in the House of Representatives in Congress. Two weeks ago, the Republican majority in Congress’ lower chamber voted for the 40-somethingth time to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act we know as “Obamacare.” Ignoring for the moment that the majority of these same opponents of the new health care law were shouting to the top of their collective lungs during last year’s presidential elections that the economy was the biggest concern of the American people, it’s pretty hard for anyone to rationally reconcile how trying to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act jives with fixing our broken economy. Among some Republican leadership, this dim reality had been acknowledged. Old School Republican and former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently chided the current Republican legislators in Congress when he reminded them that “congressional Republicans would have ‘zero answer’ for how to replace the president's health care overhaul when asked, despite their having voted repeatedly to repeal the measure” (See: “GOP Pushes Rising Stars Amid Calls For Solutions”).
Sure, there‘s a lot of rhetoric being bandied around about how Obamacare is a “job-killer” (and yes, there is some anecdotal instances that some jobs may be adversely affected by implementation of the new law), but the lack of any Republican-sponsored alternative to reforming the current economically unsustainable health care finance model indicates that simple economics is not at the heart of opposition to reform. It’s more likely that not allowing the president and his Democratic allies a policy victory is at the center of the opposition.
If in fact, reforming how we pay for health care in this country were an actual priority, then simply cutting government spending in expendable areas is the most obvious place to start. Both people and the leadership we elect have to consider making the hard choices when it comes to spending priorities. Do we want the ability to be able to pay for healthcare, or is funding programs like Head Start—a program whose overall effectiveness as a kick start to fostering positive childhood experiences in school (and in life) is still a matter of debate—more important? Do we take steps to eliminate the chief reason for Americans filing bankruptcy year-to-year—the inability to pay prohibitively costly medical bills—or do we continue to pay for wars on countries that aren’t an actual threat to our nation’s security and interests? Do we create an atmosphere whereby people like “John” can afford to cover his families with health insurance, or do we continue to give “job-generating” tax breaks to “job creators.” Job Creators…you know, those people who provide people like “John” with $9.00 an hour jobs that offer us health insurance options that we cannot afford to pay for?
As I think of “John” in the context of political opposition to health care affordability, it’s hard to ignore the irony that the officials we elect to craft policies such as health care affordability are comfortably covered by the government-sponsored insurance which “John’s” taxes pay for.
See also: “Universal Healthcare - How Other Countries Do It” and “The Real Health Insurance Industry -- An Insider Look At The Industry”