Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Summer's Evening on the Potomac

This weekend we were having one of those glorious, adults-only dinners, Mr. Litbrit and I, and somehow the conversation wandered into the area of health care—specifically, the outrageous cost thereof and the increasingly paltry benefits provided to those who can even afford it in the first place.

litbrit: They don’t cover this; they don’t cover that….

Mr. L: Yeah, so what else is new?

litbrit: They tell your doctor what medicines he should be prescribing based on what deals they’ve made with pharmaceutical companies! And if you want the actual medicine your doctor prescribed, you have to pay for it out of pocket. And then they have the nerve to send us bills for massive bloody premiums that keep going up...

Mr. L: And your point, my darling?

litbrit (bristling): My point is that this is bullshit. This is the United States. The only developed country in the world in which the government doesn’t provide its citizens with basic health care. I mean, you’re completely on your own here. And a lot of the time, ordinary, working families can’t afford insurance, so their kids don’t get shots, or they don’t get taken to the doctor ever, and then they get desperately sick and have to go to the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital, who by law must treat the child regardless…and the cost of that gets passed on to those who are insured, and use the ER or hospital, in terms of the ridiculous charges for anything and everything that get billed to the insurance companies. You know, the famous forty-dollar aspirin thing…they have to make the difference up somewhere, or they can’t keep their doors open. And of course, the insurance companies, in turn, charge higher rates to families like ours, who in turn are less and less able to afford insurance at all.

Mr. L: All true. And?

I’ll leave our dinner conversation for a moment. Let’s go back in time a little…all the way back to 2004. During his campaign, President Bush made all manner of promises to America. He led his supporters to believe that small businesses would realize a reduction in the cost of providing health care coverage for their employees. At a September ’04 rally in Wisconsin, he said:

In a time of change we must do more to make sure quality health care is available and affordable. More than one-half of the uninsured in America are small business employees. Many small businesses are having trouble affording health care. In a new term, we must allow small firms to join together to purchase insurance at the discounts big companies get.

Last night I proposed new steps to encourage small businesses and employees and low-income Americans to set up health savings accounts.


What I'm telling you is, there are ways to hold down costs, ways to help small businesses, ways to make sure people have got insurance. And we have got a plan to do that.

And we have got a plan to do that. Ah yes, the man with a plan. Again. Don’t you love it? Hey, how’s that plan working for you, America?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who base their data on figures supplied directly by the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans continued to rise in 2004. Here are a few more unsettling figures (bolds mine):

…The percentage of working adults (18 to 64) who were uninsured climbed from 18.6 percent in 2003 to 19.0 percent in 2004 (an increase of over 750,000 people in 2004).


Lack of insurance was much more common among those with low incomes. Some 24.3 percent of people with incomes below $25,000 were uninsured, almost triple the rate of 8.4 percent for people with incomes over $75,000


Private employment-based health insurance coverage fell again in 2004, for the fifth successive year. The share of Americans with job-based coverage stood at 59.8 percent in 2004, significantly less than the share in 2003 (60.4 percent) and in 2000 (63.6 percent). Over the years, the primary cause for the decline in job-based health insurance has been escalating health care costs, which has led some employers to stop offering coverage and many others to shift more costs to employees, making it more difficult for low- and moderate-income workers to afford insurance for themselves or their families.

We’re all paying taxes. Oh yes. Meanwhile, we’re pounding our chests about what a great country this is—and in many ways, America is great, in all senses of the adjective. But people can’t afford to go to the doctor, military veterans are seeing their benefits slashed, fixed-income seniors—like the lady in front of me at the Target pharmacy last week—have to pay $75 out-of-pocket for crucial antibiotics not covered by Medicare or risk keeling over from a bronchial infection…none of this strikes me as particularly great.

Back to our dinner conversation:

litbrit: What it amounts to is taxation without representation. I mean, what is more basic, more vital to human health, than being able to get the medicine you need when you’re sick? That elderly lady at the pharmacy peeling dollar bill after dollar bill off a stack she probably had hidden away for emergencies, and now she's down to's so fucking wrong.

Mr. L: Taxation without representation. Interesting.

litbrit: Didn’t you guys protest that, once? In Boston? Our King was charging big taxes on tea, but the colonies weren’t getting anything out of the deal—no sugar, no love, no nothing….

Mr. L: It was called the Boston Tea Party. Some ballsy guys climbed onto the cargo ships and dumped all the tea they were carrying into Boston Harbor. Tons and tons of it. It made a pretty strong statement, since everyone including me remembers it hundreds of years later.

litbrit: We need a to do something similar today, you know, to protest the fact that we’re paying taxes yet we’re still the only developed nation without universal health care. It’s ridiculous. We need a health care tea party. Yes! We need to think up a symbolic thing that people could throw into the Potomac, say, in protest of this travesty. Like tons of syringes, maybe.

Mr. L: What, make DC look like Jersey?

litbrit: What could we throw…hmmmm…I wonder what would say, “This administration doesn’t represent ordinary Americans and won’t address our health care crisis, so take this!"

Mr. L: I’ve got it! Douchebags! We organize the Washington Douchebag Party of 2006, get thousands of Americans to throw the things into the Potomac. A media event! Think about it: a douchebag is the perfect symbol because it’s a health-care item, and it also represents the people who should have dealt with this crisis long ago.

litbrit: I love it.


  1. i was going to comment over at shake's place, but want to reinforce my habit of coming here. 30 years ago (gawd, i'm dating myself) i was touring europe with harry the hipster gibson (the finest jazz piano player ever and a true wildman) while in norway i got deathly ill with horrid pnuemonia. i was taken to a local hospital and without any regard to anything but my illness, treated, nursed, and wonderfully cared for. the cost? nuthin'. nada. zip. zilch. they didn't care that i was a foreigner. all they worried about was my illness and how to make me well. usually i tend to the libertarian end of the spectrum. my initial reaction is to say something like "if you think healthcare costs are obscene now, wait till the gov't takes over." while in europe i realized that healthcare is not viewed as a commodity for sale in the marketplace, but rather a divine human right. if there was ever a place and opportunity for the socialist ideal to work that is the place. i don't know if it will ever happen here. things might be too deeply entrenched with too much money in play for significant change to take place. i am one of the few lucky ones. through my union i have top drawer health care for the rest of my life. i grieve for those who aren't as lucky. i despair for the parade of unfortunates clogging the ER's because that is the only access to aid and comfort that they have. i know there's a better way. i don't know if we have the courage and decency as a society to accomplish it.

  2. Welcome back Stephen (and thanks for the support, btw!)

    while in europe i realized that healthcare is not viewed as a commodity for sale in the marketplace, but rather a divine human right.

    Exactly. I spent my early years in England, and when I was little, you not only saw the doctor whenever you needed to--no charge--if you were sick in bed, he would come to your house (now who's showing her age!) I love this country, but I don't understand how Americans can accept this. It's absolutely amazing.

    I didn't even get into the issue of catastrophic illness causing people to lose everything they have. And then have to declare bankrupcy (or try to--hell, the govt. has put a clamp on that recently). That is shameful beyond belief. Of course, when you have a clueless trust-fund moron in charge, you can't expect him to understand what it is to be poor, hungry, or desperate--he has never been there, and he's too stupid and lacking in empathy to imagine what it must be like.

    BIG sigh....

  3. OT: Your commentary on Robert Browning reminded me of how much I liked "Porphyria's Lover," and that creepy ending! "And yet God has not said a word"... I had a VERY strong gay, male feminist professor for Brit lit a couple years ago and we had a really interesting discussion about that poem. You know, possession of the female and all that.

    I should read more of him. I love that creepy stuff. Although Poe is still my favorite.

    That reminds me- I should bring back Poetry Corner. If I put up a poem, do you think people on Shakes Sis would be down to discuss it?

  4. You're asking me if there ought to be a poetry corner?!!

    My goodness, yes.

    There should be one in every neighborhood. But definitely on Shakes, if she's up for it (and I'm sure she would be).

    I might even cast a few of my own humble bits and pieces into the fray. Might.