Nice Try

by Torrey Douglass, January 27, 2011

My son is talking like an 80-year-old man. He thinks it’s funny and, except for feeling a little sluggish, is otherwise fine – at least I hope he is. His teacher mentioned that strep throat is going around. “Have another cough drop,” I say. “Here’s some peppermint tea with honey. Drink up.”

My husband is learning not to scratch. Scaly red patches have appeared on his neck, his wrist, his leg – shingles, a little Internet research informs us. I find a home remedy: apple cider vinegar. Several applications later, there is little improvement. He is toughing it out.

We have a health care center in our community. I hear they are very good, but, with our two self-employed workers, our family can neither afford insurance nor qualify for any of the (teetering, tottering) government programs out there. We did go to the health center once, for my daughter’s preschool check-up and to remove a wart from my son’s finger. It cost $350. We haven’t been back.

Along with the bank, we own our house. We have two cars. The programs aren’t for us, I understand that. I just wish there was an alternative. Obama tried, and these days, Boehner and his crew are going to do their best to undo that partial victory. His efforts will leave uninsured kids, employers struggling under healthcare premiums, and the memory of Ann Dunham high and dry. Looks like her deathbed arguments with health insurance providers will be replayed by many more Americans before this crisis abates.

In the face of this crisis, my family is lucky enough to have a back-up plan. As fate would have it, I married a Brit. Should the unthinkable happen and one of us falls critically ill, we will pack up and move to England, where we can receive care without facing financial ruin; care that, despite reports to the contrary, is really quite good.

One morning back in 2009, when the media was frothing over Obama’s then-proposed healthcare bill, I listened with mounting frustration to an NPR news interview with England’s healthcare minister. The reporter asked the same inane question over and over, like a hamster in a vented plastic ball that has chased itself into a corner and can’t find a way out. “But if the government controls healthcare, then the government decides who lives or dies, right?” “How can the government possibly provide quality care to its citizens?” “Government healthcare requires rationing, so you have de facto death panels, wouldn’t you say?” The minister, more than once, stated that the proposed question was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard, but he said it with a British accent, so I don’t think many listeners believed him.

A friend of mine from Chicago married a Brit, too. She now lives in London with her husband and their new baby. They came out to visit a couple years ago. Amid all our talking, I asked, “How is the healthcare there?” She paused and then said, “The waiting rooms are not so hotel-like. Otherwise, there’s not much difference.” “Do you have to fill out much paperwork? Do you have to pay when you go to see the doctor?” “No,” she said, that time without pausing.

If I were a lobbyist who could afford 30 seconds of Boehner’s time, I would tell him this: If the worst happens, if my family faces a health crisis and we ship off to England, we will take more than ourselves. When buying supplies for his work as a furniture maker, my husband supports local merchants and hires occasional support staff. My graphic design business employs four local contractors and relies on the services of several local businesses to operate. If we leave, those jobs and that patronage go with us. Four part- time contractor positions might not sound like much, but in a sparsely populated county with an anemic legitimate economy, they will be missed.

There was hope, just a glimmer, for a minute there, and it seemed like things would improve, but those small steps forward are being beaten back with the fat wallets and thin ethics of the insurance companies, pulling the strings on their political puppets. Boehner thinks he is doing the best thing for the American people. I guess he is, for some of them. For the rest of us, there’s always cough drops and apple cider vinegar.

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