I have this phrase that I write and repeat over and over again when it comes to health care reform. Not everyone has boots, let alone bootstraps. It comes off as more of a cutesy phrase than anything, I’m sure, but I stand by it.
The “American Dream” — starting out with nothing and amassing a future, a fortune, a livelihood, a legacy, with nothing but elbow grease and a good work ethic (or “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps”) is a beautiful, inspiring notion. One our country was founded on. It describes the men and women who paved the way for all of us; hard workers who proved that anything was possible.
But I’m not so sure I believe the American Dream exists anymore. At least not by this definition. The disparity between classes and socioeconomic groups has widened so much in the past few generations that nepotism, in my opinion, has become the new American Dream.
But not everyone shares my opinion. And the health care debate is a perfect platform on which to witness this.
There are tens of millions of Americans without health insurance. People cannot afford health care. People are dying needlessly from preventable, curable illnesses, because they CANNOT AFFORD health care. And the responses I hear from people opposed to reform — mainly those who CAN afford it — echo the sentiment that they don’t want their hard-earned money, tax dollars, what have you, supporting the care of people without insurance. This idea implies an attitude of “I work hard for what I have, damn it, and if they put as much effort into work as I do this wouldn’t be an issue.”
And this is where that class disparity comes into play. Obviously the people without insurance don’t work hard.They’re lazy and they don’t look for or try to keep jobs. They’re a drag on the economy. (This is also where the ubiquitous term “welfare mother” gets tossed around a good bit.)
The people in question aren’t people like them. It couldn’t happen to them. It couldn’t happen to their friends, their family, their kids, because they wouldn’t let it.
And this is where I beg to differ. Because it happened to me. For all intents and purposes, I AM YOUR KID.
I’m that kid, born and raised in an upper middle-class home, sent to private school, in college and thisclose to being released into that same American Dream based cycle by my hard-working parents, when something when wrong. When a succession of things went horribly wrong in an ill-fated, coincidental domino effect that I wasn’t able to power through. I lost a parent, my financial security, a scholarship, an apartment, a vehicle, and a job all in a very short span of time. And you know what? Working hard didn’t save me. Working my ASS off didn’t propel me forward. I was dropped onto the high wire that is the real world WITHOUT A SAFETY NET, and try as I might, I couldn’t see an end to all of the insecurity I was experiencing.
Needless to say, while I was focusing on eviction notices and utilities being cut off and scraping together money to buy food, health insurance wasn’t a part of the big picture. When I finally got a steady enough job to make rent, insurance still wasn’t an option. When I was getting all of the paperwork together to apply for a Pell Grant so that I could get back in school, insurance seemed like the most frivolous use of my non-existant disposable income there ever was. And all I can say is THANK GOD I didn’t get sick. Because you know that as a girl who had just lost her mother to cancer, getting sick was all that was on my mind.
So when I finally did fight my way through school and life and got a good job with (HALLELUJAH!) health benefits and received my very first hard won paycheck, you can bet I absolutely had a split second (ok, five-minute) reaction of Wait, I just worked my ass off for this check and you’re taking HOW MUCH of it out in taxes?! GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY MONEY!!! But still I knew, KNEW, I hadn’t gotten there all on my own. I’d taken the Department of Education up on their generous Pell Grant, and I’d racked up my fair share of loans getting through school.
But that wasn’t all. I may not have had a parental safety net over those four years, or somewhere to “go home” to when things got too rough, but I had my own guardian angels along the way. A well-timed card from an aunt or uncle with a $100 check just as my bank account overdrew. The parents of my best friend and roommate, who would offer me extensions on rent or assistance with bills when things were at their worst. Family and friends who felt an obligation to my mother to make sure her kid was making it ok.
I made it through the other side, but cannot for a second believe that I did it without help.
I AM MORE LUCKY THAN MOST.
The irony here is that these people who helped me are the same people that are staunchly opposed to health care reform. They don’t make the connection. Even while I was without insuance, trying in my own small way to champion the cause by screaming Look at me! I can’t afford insurance! And I work hard! What if I got sick right now?! The answer I got in return was generally “Well if everyone were like you — REALLY couldn’t afford it — it would be different.” And then there would be more talk of welfare mothers.
And THAT’s the disconnect that breaks my heart.
People — HARD WORKING, UNLUCKY, DESERVING people — are dying because they cannot afford care. And there is no excuse for that.
Now, damn it, how are we going to fix this?
(Artwork courtesy of The Graphics Fairy)