What Did You Sacrifice to Afford Health Care?

We’ve Been Trapped Inside a Bad Health Care System So Long, We Don’t Even Know How Much We’re Missing

Published on AlterNet, by Sara Robinson, Campaign for America’s Future, June 26, 2009.

Think about it. Get angry. The current system has robbed us of the chance to save, educate ourselves, see the world and live to a robust old age.

Sometimes, when you’re up to your chin in alligators, it’s hard to focus on the fact that there’s a big, broad, alligator-free world waiting somewhere out there, beyond the edge of the swamp.

In this case, it’s hard for most Americans to even imagine that nobody in the rest of the developed world lives this way. We’ve been living inside the restrictions and making the trade-offs required to hang onto our all-important health care coverage for so long that we don’t even realize that we’re cutting those deals, or what we’re giving up, or how thoroughly those choices have come to dominate and limit our lives.

If you’re an American under 40, you can’t remember a time that the health care system didn’t work this way – or that keeping coverage wasn’t a dominant factor in making your life choices. If you’re older than that, the memory of another, happier era beyond the swamp is dim, and fading fast.

This was one of the things that struck me hardest when I arrived in Canada five years ago. The swamp-blindness was so dark and deep that it took a while to adjust to a world without alligators. It’s almost impossible to describe to folks back home how different life is when health insurance simply doesn’t factor at all into how you choose to live your life. There’s almost no language for it. Rather than even attempt it, I sometimes just ask my American friends and relatives to open up their imaginations, and answer the question for themselves:

  • How would your life be different if you never had to worry about getting, keeping, or affording health care again?
  • What other choices might you have made?
  • Where else would you be right now?
  • How would it change your plans for the future?

I’ve seen people reduced to tears of rage and frustration by these questions. When you really stop and think about it – pause for a few minutes to take it all in, past, present, and future – it becomes clear that the full absurdity and the sheer enormity of the sacrifices we have to make for an almighty health care card are the greatest obstacle to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that most of us are burdened with today … (full long text).

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