I love a good conversation, that most ancient of art forms. Its word-laden arena sets us on high as a species and allows us as individuals to break away from our inherent loneliness (or animal nature) and make a connection, a true connection, with another person. Oh, the exultant joy of being conversationally human, exercising our brains as we plunge, fearlessly, into discussions on every topic from from typhoon Haiyan, to the discovery of multiple earth-like planets, to the latest episode of Project Runway Allstars. I love it all.
However, mention American healthcare and I turn into some “thing” from an Edvard Munch painting; tongue tied, ears reddening, wanting to scream, unable to scream, gibbering, head shaking, body quivering, hopelessly, utterly, ruined. I can do naught but hunker down behind the couch, suck on the hem of my t-shirt, and make that nice squelchy sound that only happens when you sook on a piece of saliva-drenched cloth. Maybe it’s more Francis Bacon than Munch.
I like to think I am a reasonably articulate individual, one capable of explaining myself and defending my point of view. When it comes to this topic, though, I’m useless. My rage blinds me to the point of paralysis, conversational or otherwise. And yet surely this forum is a place for me to explain to you why I am so upset. After all, I can take as much time as I need to articulate my thoughts. But I just can’t do it. My brain stopped working at the start of paragraph 2.
Maybe the tiniest of examples can help me overcome this paralysis.
I currently work for a company that provides a healthcare plan (hip-hip-hooray for dependence on corporate America). Until recently, I had the option of three different plans, all with different deductibles, coverage percentages, and whatnot. Such choice. These plans have now been replaced with two choices (Why? Don’t ask me.), neither of which looks quite as comprehensive as my previous plan and cost more to boot. Being a dutiful consumer, I put in a call to the human resources department to understand which new plan I should pick. Within minutes of listening to the high-pitched, cue-card reading, woman on the other end of the line I was utterly confused by coverage costs, out of pocket expenses, deductibles, in-network doctors, and so on and so forth. I just wanted to know which plan made more sense.
Her: “Well, how many unexpected medical procedures are you planning to have next year?”
Me: “Excuse me?” Isn’t the whole point of an unexpected medical procedure that you can’t expect it?
Her: “Well, that depends on how you view health insurance.”
Me: “Eh…. No, it doesn’t.”
At this point the woman just got huffy with me even as I tried to argue that gambling with ones money (did I mention I’m paying more for less?) is not the same as gambling with ones health. She wasn’t having any of it and I wound up with the more expensive plan on the assumption that if the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan, I’ll have some recourse that won’t cost me too many thousands of dollars. And if it does I can always declare bankruptcy.
Perhaps my decision was irrational. Perhaps I’ve gotten it wrong, and picked a plan that is going to cost far too much for what I get in return. Truth is, I don’t want to think about it.
I don’t want to think about being sick unless I am sick. I don’t want to think about a loved one being sick, EVER, unless, heaven forbid, they get sick. And then the only thing I want to think about is them, or me, getting better.
There is something profoundly horrific about America’s insistence that we treat healthcare as a free-marketplace business. It negates our very psychology at dealing with matters of mortality, our confrontation with things threatening and impure.
Picture a loved one’s stomach with a pus-filled open wound. Imagine the gnarled fleshy pink tumor competing for space inside a parent’s skull. Consider the plaque build-up constricting the flow of blood to your own heart. Or the crack of bones as a child you know and love is hit by an oncoming Honda Civic.
The mere discussion of such threats is fundamentally horrifying, for it forces us to contemplate our own impending doom and that of the people we love. No wonder we avoid the conversation entirely.
But in choice-loving America, we are forced to contemplate the horrific, contrary to our very natures. The healthcare conversation is elevated to national heights, sitting alongside politically relevant topics such as economic recovery or military might. But this is a topic that simply doesn’t belong there. The very nature of healthcare is such that we cannot rationally have that conversation. There is nothing rational whatsoever about facing guaranteed death.
This is why civilized nations have national healthcare systems.
But not America. No, not America. Because free-market choice trumps everything in America. And I am forced to call the human resource department and make an irrational choice about what unexpected medical procedures I anticipate having next year. And having made that choice I head back behind the couch and make some more squelchy sounds.
USA, USA, USA.