Friday, October 25, 2013

Meaningful Life versus Health-Insured Life

A few years ago, I stopped in my boss' office to drop off some papers, and we began discussing new legislation under debate in Congress, the beginnings of the Affordable Care Act. 
When I mentioned it seems many people choose jobs just for the security of health insurance, he laughed and said he hoped that wasn't the case for me.

And I responded how any insecure, new, secretly pregnant employee would around the person who signs her paychecks: laughed nervously and agreed.

But I continue to think, as Obamacare begins to unfold, and millions of Americans gain access to comprehensive health insurance (and possibly health care): how many people have given up dreams, for the sake of health insurance?
We grow up hearing how important it is to become something meaningful. My preschoolers alternate between future vocations as firefighters or priests (more similar than one might think). And we talk all day about the importance of teachers, youth ministers, and all those who mentor our kids in karate, music lessons, and dance.

I was a sell-out: an unapologetic, steel-faced sell-out, in the choice between a meaningful job versus a livable wage. But by "livable wage," I don't mean high income, because we've survived happily on low wage jobs. I mean the one thing that up until possibly 2014, you have to work 40-hour weeks at a for-profit company to access: health insurance.

The pursuit of health insurance has made us more than just hardworking business casual drones: it's reprogrammed our national work ethic. Which companies can afford to provide the best health insurance? Those who make the most profits. We subtly adopt the attitudes of these pedestaled companies: our goal in work is no longer a self-expression of our talents or a self-giving toward the good of our communities. We become motivated by profits and benefits, instead of life and inspiration.

I hate health insurance. It's not health care. It doesn't want to be health care (though some of their commercials can be deceptively convincing against that point). Health insurance organizations are for-profit companies, who make profits specifically by NOT providing health care. My family, and thousands of others across the nation, has discovered an alternative healthcare co-op that more than meets our needs. But explaining the self-pay co-op system to an ER billing specialist is like paying with traveler's checks at 7-Eleven.

Access to health care is tied to employment, so all of the good-for-nothin' lazy welfare bums are motivated to work, or so people keep telling me. But I don't think the amateur theorists who push this idea realize how many low- and middle-class families work very hard, often with both parents in the rat race of corporate America, and still don't have access to health insurance, the golden key of access to healthcare.

Sure we can get emergency treatment at the ER, which means stabilizing you enough to push you out the door and back to the sidewalk -- hope your ride comes soon, no you can't use our phones. But preventive care and basic healthcare should not be luxuries for the wealthy.

So I've joined the ranks of professional paper-pushers, and comfort myself with the idea that I'm pushing meaningful papers that support good work.

But I continue to wonder, what would happen if health care weren't tied to employment?  There would be a renaissance in entrepreneurship, the arts, non-profit endeavors, and teaching. Without the fear of medical bankruptcy or insufficient healthcare, I believe Americans would discover new and greater freedom, to choose work that is diverse and significant.

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