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HCR 1.0 Signed, Sealed, Delivered

HCR 1.0 Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I’m posting this under the “Living” category in honor of the many lives this flawed, compromised, not-as-great-as-we’d like it bill will save. As the vice president so eloquently said: “This is a big fucking deal.”

Just this week I got another letter from the collection agency that is still trying to collect money from my mother for an operation she needed while she was uninsured in her early sixties. She thought she had insurance, but her employer had dropped coverage for his employees without telling them. It was a very small company, and the rates went too high (which is not to excuse him). The hospital refused several offers to settle, and although we keep thinking this issue is dead, since she lives on Social Security alone (and it’s illegal to collect SS funds), they keep sending dunning letters.

Such is the state of things, that I had to explain to my mother when she was worried after watching too much bad right-wing news coverage that it was Medicare, government health coverage, that saved her life after the head injury, and that has kept her in pretty good health ever since she turned sixty-five. She didn’t understand this. She thought she had private insurance. I had to explain that while she has Blue Cross/Blue Shield Part B, that only covers the 20% that Medicare won’t cover, that the majority of her health care is taken care of by Medicare, a government program. Just like the Social Security, on which she depends for her entire income, is also a government program.

The right has spent nearly thirty years since the Reagan era convincing middle-America that the government can’t do anything right, that government is incompetent — all to prop up the rapacious corporate forces that feed off a middle-class that has become increasingly fearful as it’s watched dreams of economic security erode. What I’d like to know is what have corporations been so successful at? Jobs? Hardly. They’ve sent all the jobs, including an increasing number of white-collar jobs overseas. Providing services or economic security or decent retirements for people? Hardly.

And the insurance industry, what can I say? Private enterprise hasn’t made this country healthier, or provided decent care to the majority. What it’s done is raise premiums, refuse to pay for preventative and necessary care, and use every trick in its extensive book to dump anyone off its rolls who might actually need health care. All in order to pay higher and higher bonuses to executives and to drive up stock prices.

The right has spent thirty years telling people it’s okay to be selfish, that we are not all in this together, that it’s every man, woman and child for him or herself. The Chicago school were wrong. Ayn Rand and Allan Greenspan and all the rest of them were wrong. They sold the country a bill of goods. There was no “trickle down.” The rising tide only lifted the boats of the 1% of the population that took all the money. The rest of us are left out here floundering, left with a broken banking system, raided retirement accounts, and no health care. That worked real well.

So really, I’m ready for a change. I’m not crazy about this bill, and I’m still furious with my senator, Max Baucus, who is already working to obstruct the reconciliation bill, and who is dutifully serving his masters in the insurance industry by preventing the logical addition of a public option to the reconciliation process (a public option that would save us huge expenditures of public money). But I am thrilled that as a nation we might, just might, be turning the corner again. We might be remembering who we are.

Now let’s move on to HCR 1.1, 1.5, and 2.0 (with a public option). Let’s make HCR actually work, and work for the millions and millions of uninsured, and underinsured people. Let’s stop unnecessary medical bankruptcies, stop lining the pockets of venal insurance agents and executives, and perhaps learn to live like a civilized modern nation. Let’s unleash the entreprenurial energies of all those people trapped in jobs they hate because they can’t afford to lose their insurance coverage. Let’s try it folks, try living in a nation in which health care is a right, not a privilege. We might just like it.

On Hipsters, Food Stamps and the Permeability of the Poverty Line

On Hipsters, Food Stamps and the Permeability of the Poverty Line

There was an article in Salon the other day that I almost blogged about, but it seemed like such as setup: Hipsters on Food Stamps. The article was a profile of out-of-work “hipsters” in the Bay Area, New York, Baltimore and other urban areas who were, thanks to the ongoing recession and the stimulus package, eligible for and using food stamps. Of course, the twist was that they weren’t eating “government cheese” but were using their food stamp money to buy fruits and vegetables at small stores and farmers markets, and were gasp, cooking fairly delicious meals from them. One of those meals was described, rather snarkily, as “Thai yellow curry with coconut milk and lemongrass, Chinese gourd sautéed in hot chile sauce and sweet clementine juice, all of it courtesy of government assistance.” Hmm. Sounds like a healthy cheap vegetarian meal to me.

So anyway, I wasn’t going to write about this because it just seemed so dumb. But today I was cruising past Salon, and found Gerry Mak’s response to the story. He’s one of the so-called “hipsters” profiled in the piece, and while he defended his decisions about food with eloquence, he correctly pointed out that the original article was a smokescreen for a larger and more important issue:

… the core of this discussion is an ideological debate between those that believe private entrepreneurship and simple hard work are the cures for poverty, and those that believe that the the poverty line is permeable in both directions. Among the latter, there is yet a deeper debate about whether we can, in a deep recession with record unemployment rates, make the same old assumptions about class based on race, occupation and education, particularly when increasingly, only poorly paid, unprotected, insecure jobs are available even to people with master’s degrees.

As someone who grew up with many many advantages, especially those of class privilege, but with parents who were usually broke, I have never been unclear on the permeability of the poverty line. I’ve been broke most of my life, with the exception of the ten years I spent at the Big Corporation. I have almost always worked at least two jobs; I have advanced degrees; and yet, in every other job I’ve ever had but that one, I’ve been underpaid, and have worked in environments where benefits weren’t even offered. Until the Big Corp. job, I’d never worked anyplace where I qualified for unemployment benefits when the job ended, and it continues to make me crazy that the majority of the jobs I’ve had in my life don’t even qualify as “real” jobs to the government. So if, for once, unemployed, educated, white-collar information workers are eligible for a little bit of government assistance, and they’re being creative about using it, who are we to mock them?

This is a deep and terrifying recession, and although I’ve been weathering it pretty well so far, let’s face it, there are real dangers out there. People are losing their houses. Kids are getting out of school and looking at the worst employment prospects in decades, but unlike those of us who graduated in the mid-1980s with similar recessionary stats, these kids are carrying tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. And it’s not just kids who are in trouble. There are a lot of people, like the author of this article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, “Off The Job, Slouching Toward Social Services” who have good educations, and creative professions they’ve sustained with the sorts of underemployment jobs that those of us who want to write or paint or dance or create theatre have always had — secretarial and translation and waiting tables — and even those jobs are gone now. I’ve been lucky so far — I’ve had enough freelance work to keep my head above water, and it looks like I’ll be able to swing a part-time contracting gig back at the Big Corporation. I’m thrilled that I can survive on a part-time gig as I have some creative projects I really feel it’s time to commit to and I’ve spent the past eight years since I’ve moved here paying things off and trying to get my financial house to the place where I can live on a lot less. However, even though I can do this, and I’m deeply grateful for the job opportunity, I’m still going back to a world of self-employment — no health insurance, no stock options, and should this gig end, no unemployment benefits. I’m going back into that ever-increasing sector of the economy where there is no safety net, and where bankruptcy and ruin are one broken leg or appendicitis or cancer diagnosis away. And that’s NOT the change I voted for, it’s not the United States in which I want to live, and it’s not the nation where I want our kids to grow up. We have the ability to take care of one another better than this. And one way we can start the process is perhaps by rethinking some of the stories we’ve been told about class and race and education and opportunity.