Wednesday afternoon during my weekly brisk walk to and from the comic shop, along the way I passed a genuine protest march, something we don’t see every day in downtown Indianapolis. I counted at least several dozen people heading west on Market Street toward Monument Circle, chanting what sounded to my ears like:
“WHAT DO WE WANT?”
…because sometimes my hearing’s not great.
Picketers’ hand-printed messages included:
“MEDICARE FOR ALL”
“MEDICAID CUTS WILL KILL MY PARENTS”
“OXYGEN IS NOT OPTIONAL”
“PRO-LIFE? PROVE IT! SAVE MEDICAID”
“DEATH BY STATE WAIVER OF ESSENTIAL BENEFITS”
“HOOSIERS NEED HEALTHCARE NOT WEALTHCARE”
“DEATH BY TRUMP DON’T CARE”
“UNDIAGNOSED CERVICAL CANCER”
“NO [scribble-scribble], NO [chicken-scratch], NO ON THE BCRA”
…and so on. I didn’t have time to stick around for an accurate head count or multiple photos.
Medical insurance costs, which is not exactly the same thing as medical costs, have been quite the passionate debate topic for millions of Americans throughout the decade, intensifying at an alarming rate these past six months as our government has decided that fixing the issues with the ongoing after-effects of the Affordable Care Act would be best accomplished using the blunt instruments of haste, blindered fealty to party lines, prioritization of dollars over altruism, denial of all input or dissent, and full abdication of as much governmental responsibility as possible. The least malignant interpretation of their public actions to date amounts to “Saving You and Your Family’s Lives: Can’t Someone Else Do It?”
Finding a consensus between the sides has proven next to impossible. For many Americans, the Affordable Care Act was a life-affirming maneuver that helped improve their quality of life and basically saved the day. For many Americans but not the same Americans, the ACA meant a radical increase in their premiums, paying extra for mandatory coverage for options they’ll never need, and watching their rising deductibles make insurance nearly pointless for anyone in excellent health who doesn’t need weekly appointments or daily medication. One side does seem louder than the other online lately, especially on Twitter where the daily chatter as of this writing runs 52% “HEALTH CARE HEALTH CARE HEALTH CARE HEALTH CARE HEALTH CARE HEALTH CARE” to 45% “Trump Sucks Trump Sucks Trump Sucks” (a bit below its former high of 97%), with 2.5% for “Such good doggos!” bringing up the rear.
Not that the health insurance companies are enjoying any of this. To mitigate the added costs of attempting business under Obamacare, some companies have restructured, incrementally downsized their work forces without fanfare, discontinued product lines both shoddy and formerly useful, slashed agents’ commissions to the bone and into the marrow, and doubled down on any income streams they handle that aren’t significantly affected or, better yet, have nothing to do with medical insurance. I can’t speak for other states, but here in Indiana the field has gotten so untenable that by 2018 only two (2) companies will be selling Individual policies the ACA way, as all our other insurers have given up on it. Health insurance monopoly, here we come.
Anyone who thought that those companies would keep everything humming along nicely but just compensate by reducing their executives’ pay, or something equally fanciful and indulgent, were entertaining pretty lofty dreams. That was never going to happen. So how did lawmakers and pundits think those companies would absorb the added costs of the new ACA mandates without walking away or going under? Candy fundraiser sales? Multi-billion-dollar reverse mortgages on their own buildings? Perhaps a spiffy bailout like the auto manufacturers got?
Regardless, several fighters on a number of sides seem to agree: it would be awfully amazing and wonderful if we could do American health care in such a way that anecdotal incidents of tragic deaths due to high costs of living weren’t a thing and didn’t keep threatening to add up, not to mention medically fueled bankruptcies. Mind you, doctors and hospitals could make this entire controversy go away in a heartbeat by snapping their fingers and henceforth declaring all medical care free forever and ever and personally giving up all their own paychecks, in exchange for good karma and extra Facebook Likes. Then again, this solution would also make health insurers superfluous and put them out of business, so…maybe hospitals start smaller by giving out lots of coupons like fast-food joints do, or create a frequent-shopper program in the manner of Kroger or Barnes & Noble, where you earn discounts for repeated purchases at the same medical center and sometimes they email you gift certificates on your birthday. Any little gesture on their part might be keen and mind-blowing.
All this rhetorical carnage adds up to an era of American history in which change is in the air at the highest levels and lowest lifeforms of government, in our personal approaches to budgeting and saving and going for broke, in the attitudes of our approaches to everyday living in the face of all the fears and anxieties stoked by this roller coaster of uncertainty, and — as those several dozen protesters demonstrated here in town the other day — how much effort we’re willing to expend on standing up and being heard, even if sometimes we might need some fine-tuning for the sake of clarity of message.