Monday, December 01, 2008

Temporarily Joining the Ranks

So, dear Readers, as of 12:01 am today, my wife and I are officially uninsured. Caught in that painfully ubiquitous American conundrum, we are both gainfully employed, both starting new jobs (that, admittedly, don't pay exceedingly well), and our new insurance will not kick in until January 1st. With several chronic illnesses between us and a number of medications we take on a regular basis, this could be cause for concern.

Counting our blessings, we indeed realize that, unlike the majority of the other 38 million uninsured Americans waking up this morning, our uninsured status is, in fact, temporary. A month from now, as we ring in the New Year, we will also ring in the renewed security that paying monthly health insurance premiums can bring. Our privilege is not lost on us, but having just been to the emergency room on Thanksgiving Day, I am given pause to remember that life and illness do indeed sometimes happen on their own schedule. But like I've said before, middle class privilege is something we do not take for granted, and our very survival is in no way threatened by this unfortunate but temporary turn of events.

Meanwhile, my incredulous friends in Canada and Europe wonder how such a "powerful" country can leave so many of its citizens in the lurch, many actually going bankrupt when they cannot pay their medical bills. My response is that the United States' free market system coupled with an ingrained Puritan work ethic and "pick-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps" cowboy mystique leads many mainstream Americans to think of themselves rather than of others, assuming that those who "have not" probably don't deserve it anyway. Ronald Reagan's evisceration of Public Assistance---further decimated by Bill Clinton in the 90's---painted "Welfare Moms" as deadbeats who purportedly birthed children just to get on the dole. We were all expected to make it on our own, and those who didn't were expected to eat our crumbs.

If I sound cynical, it's because there has been a great deal to be cynical about in the last decade of American life. With the economy in shambles, healthcare on the rocks, two never-ending wars, and poverty and hunger on the rise, some healthy cynicism is indeed in order.

So, as the Obama administration revs its engines, I wait patiently along with my fellow citizens, hoping for some change, but admittedly less starry-eyed than many of my brethren. I honestly expect little to change in the next year in terms of the machinations of American healthcare economics, although I do hold out hope that the ranks of the uninsured will somehow be decreased as rapidly as possible. Changing such an entrenched system will not be easy, and some say it is truly impossible with so many economic and political toes to be stepped on. Well, the poor, uninsured and hungry in this country have been repeatedly stepped on throughout the decades, so if the insurance industry cries "foul" as it suffocates, let's simply call it just desserts.

This next month of "insurancelessness" does certainly give me a lot of food for thought. I am grateful that this chapter will be short-lived, but I am all too well aware that, for many others, it is a chapter that seems to never end.
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