05 July 2007

On healthcare and bootstraps

After Micheal Moore's SiCKO came out, the blogosphere has erupted with all sorts of reviews, mostly positive. Check out Pam, Amanda, and Jill. Of course, the always predictable trolls are out in full force in fear of a national healthcare system. And they're trotting out the same predictable argument, once you distill it down to it's pure form: that healthcare if a privilege and we're a nation of individuals who can pull up by our bootstraps.


I actually used to believe the latter portion of that statement, that you could become anything if you just worked really hard and didn't get into trouble. Maybe in the not so distant past that was true, to an extent. You know, back when a high school education could still land you a job that payed a living wage with which you could afford a house and mortgage, a car, and support a few kids, maybe even send them to college. In modern times, this is simply not the case, and it's highly possible that it never was the case. "Bootstraps" are part of the American mythology. Successful people like to remind everyone that they got to where they are by working hard. I've no doubt they worked hard, but at who's expense? A white, middle class male born in this country automatically has more opportunity than a white, middle class female born at the same time, or a black middle class male. They've got a head start, yet nobody wants to acknowledge that because it destroys our precious national mythology.

To put this more simply, a child (male or female) born in a white middle class family has a built-in safety net that ensures they will do well in life. This is, in fact, my case, even as a woman, so I will explain how I have benefited from being born into a white middle class family. Because my family is well off, I had the opportunity to go to a good public school in a good neighborhood. I lived in a nice house, where I didn't have to worry about pests or unhealthy conditions or rampant crime that would detract from my education and development. I could concentrate on my homework after school, and even participate in ballet, because my parents were financially secure and didn't need me to put in any time at a job to help the family out. When it was time for college, and there was never any doubt that I would go to college, the money was there. I was able to spend my college years focused on my education (whether I did that or not is an entirely different post) rather than working three jobs to scrape tuition money together. Whenever I got sick, my parents' health insurance helped tremendously. Whenever I had car trouble, my parents could help me out. Even after college and into my professional life, I'm confident in the safety net of my family. Going through my divorce, I had the help of my family to avoid becoming homeless and broke. I think we can all imagine the course my life would have taken had I not been born into a white middle class family. I could have pulled on my bootstraps with all my might, but I still wouldn't be where I am today.

Most recently, I had my family's help with my bout of breast disease. I was unemployed at the time and in the middle of a bitter divorce. My then husband was in the process of withdrawing my health insurance, so when things starting to get diagnosed, I freaked out. My father, because he has the financial power to do so, employed me in his law firm to work from home so that I could avoid a gap in healthcare coverage. No, I didn't do a lot of work because I was dealing with a serious disease, but I made sure to make it up to him. And I was covered for the duration of the illness.

If I had not had that opportunity from my father, I would be paying off medical bills for the rest of my life. Or, worse yet, no doctor would have touched me because I wasn't covered, and that little lump would have developed into cancer. Even if I were to pay for my medical expenses out of pocket, I would never be covered for breast disease by any insurance company in the future. It's already scary that I'll never be able to have individual (non-employer) insurance if I decide to freelance, because who would cover a woman who was diagnosed with breast disease, a precursor to cancer, at 29, without charging outrageous premiums?

I can't wait to see SiCKO. I'm a Michale Moore fan, I'll admit it. He's hyperbolic at times, but that's what it takes in this country. Subtlety doesn't quite get through thick skulls. And the next time I hear some libertarian wanker whine about having to pay a few extra dollars a month so that the entire fucking country can have good healthcare*, I'm telling my story. I've worked hard my whole life, and I STILL got sick! It's not fair!

* Healthcare is a basic human right, and we need to start framing our arguments in this way rather than in an economic way. If the technology exists, everyone deserves quality and timely healthcare, just like everyone deserves food and water and freedom from torture. Oh, wait . . .

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