One Nation, Underinsured: Why Obamacare Will Prove the Haters Wrong

Finally, the U.S. is about to get it right.

WEBmedical_flagWhen I got the email, I was traveling in one of the socialist fleshpots of Europe where cheap medical care flows like wine. Great news, my husband wrote, forwarding the report that, thanks to Obamacare, New Yorkers like us, now paying way more than a thousand a month for health care coverage, could soon be paying as little as $300.

Socialized medicine is finally coming to our American household. And now there’s nothing Rick Perry or the GOP can do about it.

Even though the rollout has been delayed, we are on the verge of the health care singularity: the moment when middle-class Americans begin to understand just how good it feels when, thanks to government intervention, health care is affordable. Once this happens, as in every other nation where health care is nationalized, there will be no going back. In Europe, even during the crisis, conservatives fight as hard as the left to keep their cheap socialized health care.

In our household, we have been waiting for this for a long time. Our family of four has hemorrhaged tens of thousands of dollars in the years since Primo was born in 1999 and we decided to grow up and buy health insurance.

We gritted our teeth and wrote the checks every month, but there have been lean years when we’ve been one delayed freelance paycheck away from joining the 48 million uninsured Americans. And even with insurance, we still get sticker shock at the drugstore every time we go in to buy basic drugs like asthma or thyroid medicine, which our plan doesn’t cover but are almost free in other countries.

Knowing that we could have done something tangible with all that money, like buy an apartment or save for the kids’ college tuition, is bad enough.

But making it worse for us is that we have firsthand knowledge of how it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve lived in two of the countries—France and Italy—where, as in most of the world, health care is a basic right.

Ten years ago, we lived in France. One weekend, Primo got a bad fever and turned a funny pink color. A Parisian doctor came to our apartment on a Sunday afternoon, diagnosed scarlet fever and gave us a bundle of prescriptions, including antibiotics and asthma medicines.

The doctor was a kindly middle-aged man who surely had a family of his own and a weekend lunch to enjoy. But he cheerfully did what he considered his duty—life-saving, as it turned out, since scarlet fever is dangerous. (I have had occasion to marvel at the memory of that home visit on numerous white nights in New York City’s pediatric emergency rooms, waiting with dozens of other parents and miserable sick children.)

I took the prescriptions to the pharmacy along with a credit card, expecting a hit of hundreds of dollars. When I handed the druggist the plastic, he looked at me like I was crazy and showed me a printed receipt. The entire bag of medicines cost the equivalent of less than five dollars—on top of the doctor’s visit, which had set us back just $40.

A year later, I had our daughter Secunda in the British Hospital outside Paris. The British Hospital is private, and I chose it over the free French ones because I was hoping that, when the time came, I’d have my kid in an English-speaking delivery room. That turned out not to be the case, but in any event, the entire experience, including anesthesia and five days in the hospital—the standard of care for a normal delivery in France—came with a bill of around $2,000. And that was at a private hospital.

Giving birth to Primo at Beth Israel in New York, another uneventful delivery that involved just a one-night hospital stay, had cost our insurance company more than $10,000.

We reaped similar benefits from Italy’s public health care system while living there several years later. My husband, who had come down with a sore throat and fever, went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with strep. He also had a recurrent rash that had plagued him for years. A doctor in the ER said she thought his rash was due to an allergy and invited him to return to her private office for testing when he was better. A few weeks later, she tested him and found he had an allergy to Tylenol, which he had been swallowing by the handful for years for his headaches.

Voila: cured.

The price for everything? Zero.

When we returned from France in the mid ’00s, our first level of readjustment involved seeing with fresh eyes how hard life is for middle-class Americans, and how low their expectations are for any sort of relief. We’d grown used to the way the French whined about giving up wildly generous entitlements. Before I left, I had sat in a massive traffic jam in the middle of Paris caused by workers protesting some proposed cuts in the state’s dole for underemployed musicians and actors who didn’t feel like supplementing their income by waiting tables.

Our fellow citizens in depressed upstate New York—where we lived that first year back—just assumed that since they couldn’t cough up for health insurance, they’d just grow tumors alone and eventually die. I have a friend who had teeth yanked out because she couldn’t afford dental care. I also know many, many people trapped in soul-crushing corporate jobs simply for fear of going without health insurance.

The real reason the Dark Forces hate Obamacare so much is that unless they kill it in its infancy, it will crack open a door to that other world where people understand how government can relieve the crushing burden of market-driven health care on the middle class. And when that happens, how much longer before people start thinking about other services the government could improve, such as higher education and child care?

Once Obamacare hits people in the pocketbook, how much longer can the supporters of greed rely on idiotic appeals to founding-father patriotism in order to maintain corporate profits at the expense of middle-class well-being? “I will not be party to socializing health care and bankrupting my state in direct contradiction to our Constitution and our founding principles of limited government,” Rick Perry blustered early on, announcing that he wouldn’t sign onto the federal law and would proudly help Texans continue to die without medical care.

Besides the insurance company shills masquerading as patriots, there is the contingent of health care professionals who fear for their lavish livelihoods. How many Park City ski chalets and second homes in Maui will American surgeons have to let go of before doctors in America become what they are in other nations—slightly wealthier technicians who get paid a living wage to keep everyone healthier, instead of bloated upper-middle-class entitle-ees?

This summer, the professional misinformers are out in force. But their desperation is showing like perspiration on Nixon’s lip. It’s about to be over, and they know it.

Of course, there will be problems with the rollout. The best plan would have been straight single-payer, but the country’s insurance and medical lobbies would never have allowed it. And yes, the government bureaucracy will be idiotic. Our children have been on the New York State children’s insurance plan for years, and we’ve encountered the unmotivated and clueless government hacks who ask for the same document over and over, apparently incapable of keeping track of their own records. The whole complicated plan could be an unmitigated disaster for any number of other reasons. But rather than make the perfect the enemy of the good—as so many progressives disillusioned with Obama have done—let’s acknowledge that Obamacare has wedged open the door and a tiny ray of the light of knowledge is piercing the darkness.

We can’t know exactly how it will roll out. But at this point, I’m pretty certain I won’t be the last to say it: thank you, Mr. President.