So Many Stories On The Obamacare Debate Are Sensationalist; Here's A Boring Real One To Help Focus The Debate

With Donald Trump in the White House and the looming threat of Republicans repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare), I thought I would share some personal perspective on the insurance debate. This isn't a sensationalist piece. My story is completely boring, but I think that perhaps that's what makes it precisely worth sharing. 

The purpose of this is not to sway someone to the Democratic viewpoint, or the Republican viewpoint, but simply to refocus the conversation away from a partisan win for one side to a practical conversation to what's best for people. 

I totally understand where people who want very little regulation or government-funded health care are coming from. They look at it from a personal responsibility angle. Personal responsibility is a story line that conservatives love to promote and it's a story line that they often like to view themselves through. (I am where I am today because I made the right decisions.) There's truth to that viewpoint. I believe that many people are where they are because of the decisions that they've made. I believe you end up where you end up in life more because of the decisions that you make than because of not. What I don't believe is that narrative is the end-all, be-all.

I had never been one to worry too much about insurance. As a healthy male in my thirties, I carried a personal health insurance policy (one wasn't offered through the small business in which I worked), but one with an extremely high deductible ($5,000). That policy, the one with absolutely zero co-pay aside from an annual check-up (not a sick visit), cost me around $150 per month. 

I started re-thinking my deductible when a very close friend of mine, playing soccer with a group of Brazilians he admittedly had no business of playing with, blew out his knee. Dumb move. That required a trip to the ER, multiple doctors visits, a surgery with an overnight stay, and rehab. Nice little medical tab simply from an afternoon of soccer. I started thinking about questionable decisions I make every day. Running. Running on trails. Biking on trails. Running and biking on trails I had no business being on. I realized that I, too, was a mortal. I realized I was one stupid move from being out five thousand bucks.

But what if it wasn't just $5,000? What if I was sick and needed treatment that lasted a couple of years? What if I simply timed an injury incorrectly and had the treatments span the end of one year and start in the next? $5,000 turns into $10,000 pretty quickly.

So I switched to a different plan on my wife's insurance. I started paying $80 more dollars a month for something that would actually cover me in the event of an unfortunate illness or idiotic mistake. 

I did it because I could afford it. Because even though I notice $80 per month, the money is there to make that decision.

What if the money wasn't there for any of it? What if I was one of those who didn't make enough to afford any insurance but too much to get government coverage? The potential costs seem to know no ends.

This story doesn't stop with my friend or my own realized mortality. It's amazing how life happens to everyone, even when it's never happened before. 

Within a year's time, my youngest son got to be the fine recipient of two corrective eye surgeries, and my wife needed a surgery. Thanks to insurance, we were out a couple grand. Without it we would probably have been out forty to fifty. These weren't crazy surgeries. These were of the routine variety of things that come up in life. 

This is where the next thing you know, for a lot of people, they're in debt. A lot of debt. Debt not for some extreme example created by Democrats for the sake of a presidential campaign where the calamities are endless. We're talking about lots of debt for things that just happen in life.

Again, this isn't a piece to try to say, "We need to keep Obamacare." I'll let Democrats make the case for that and debate those of you from the other side with your list of, "Yeah, but..." arguments. 

My point here, again, is to frame this conversation in real terms for real people. 

  • What if my friend didn't have health insurance?
  • What if my wife didn't have good health insurance for our family?
  • What about people who simply can't afford good health insurance?
  • What about people who need long-term treatments for illnesses?
  • What about people who need expensive medications?
  • What about people who can't get or afford insurance because of preexisting medical conditions?

I personally know people who have medical bills in the millions of dollars. They will never repay this money. 

I started this piece with a little talk about personal responsibility. Again, I get the argument. People want to think that they are where they are simply because they pulled up their bootstraps and made the hard decisions. They don't want to think luck has anything to do with it. 

But it does, at least a little bit, doesn't it? Things beyond our control come up, especially when it comes to illnesses and medical care. We have a situation in our country where we are one of the richest nations on Earth, yet many people either can't afford quality care, or they can't afford to get ahead in life simply because they were dealt a bad medical hand.

When we talk about the healthcare debate, instead of worrying who gets a partisan win, I hope that our politicians remember what we're trying to fix.

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