In the 1990s, an acquaintance of mine died of food poisoning. He had gone to the chiropractor because his back hurt after eating some leftover shellfish. By the time he realized it wasn’t a backache and went to the emergency room, it was too late; the toxins had begun to shut down his organs.

I always wondered if he might have lived if he’d had health insurance. Like me, my friend was an artist. Few of us could afford insurance. We managed. Unless we didn’t.

I have had friends – working people, middle class – who had to delay necessary surgery because they were between jobs and didn’t have health insurance or who had to choose between coverage for their children or their spouses because the premiums were so expensive, they couldn’t afford both.

One friend became too sick to work for several months while he was in treatment for cancer. He would have lost his health insurance when he needed it the most if his employer hadn’t found a way to keep him on the books.

The Affordable Care Act is about to change all that. It’s hard to fathom how deep and far-reaching this change is. It’s not just about access to affordable health insurance; it’s about respite from worry and pain and self-denial.

Imagine every kid in Oakland getting early and appropriate medical treatment. Imagine parents who don’t have to worry about being buried in bills if they go to the doctor. Imagine entrepreneurs, freed to pursue their crazy dreams without taking a huge gamble on their health.

Yes, there are LOTS of things wrong with the Affordable Care Act. It’s full of loopholes, insurance companies are still siphoning off our healthcare dollars, and many states have opted out of important provisions of the law. But, in California, and in Oakland, we are going to see a huge expansion of affordable coverage. (I would have included a figure for the number of uninsured people in Oakland here, but the U.S. Census Bureau website is offline due to the government shutdown. Thank you, Tea Party!)

Medical bankruptcies (which have accounted for 62% of all bankruptcies), will go down to almost zero. No one will be forced to stay in a job she hates just to keep her insurance. The working poor – people who didn’t qualify for MediCal but couldn’t afford insurance – will have better health outcomes, live longer, watch their children grow up. The flow of resources up toward the super-rich might be slowed down, just a bit. With universal healthcare, the 99% get a little of their power back.

This is why the 1% are desperate – desperate! – to stop Obamacare. Lack of access to medical care is about to lose its value as a tool of class oppression. Workers will have one less reason to stay in terrible jobs and more courage to demand fair wages and fair treatment. Fewer poor people will die before their time. The Koch brothers and their ilk do not give up these weapons easily.

The Republicans currently terrorizing the nation know that, once citizens are given the right to healthcare, we will never give it back. In fact, we might love it so much we vote them and their mean-spirited brethren out of office.

I remain optimistic. If nothing else, the Affordable Care Act is a big, fat toe in the door of healthcare for all.  Loopholes can be fixed. Policies can be changed and refined over time. Who knows, we might even grow the political cojones to enact Single Payer. The important thing is this: as of October 1, 2013, the United States of America has acknowledged that healthcare is a right. Not a privilege, but a collective good we are morally obligated to provide for one another. That’s a huge step toward community, sanity and kindness.

To find out more about California’s health insurance exchange, visit Covered California.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

17 Responses

  1. David

    More of the same. You want something for free and you want somebody else to pay for your healthcare.

    Reply
  2. bob

    This argument is fundamentally flawed. Sure, a portion of the population stays in positions where the only benefit they receive is health care. One could argue that a larger portion are employed in (part time) positions that don’t offer insurance in the first place, or that an extra $200-300/month for a terrible plan is too much of a burden for the average young, healthy, low-wage worker. In general, Obamacare is something at least minimally necessary in some areas, but it lacks foresight in predicting costs absorbed by the taxpayers and consumers. After all, these are people who could not afford the extra $200-300 a month in the first place. What are the chances they can afford a $6000 or $10000 hospital bill? Truthfully, it needs another year to clear up the red tape , but I think Obama sees a chance of defunding within that time.

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  3. George McDermott

    I followed an online link to this piece. I live in Massachusetts, another deep well of support for Obamacare. and I’ve been unable to imagine why the people who oppose it are so rancorous in their opposition. Thanks for the explanation.

    Reply
  4. OnlyTruth

    Yes, congratulations Democrats! You have successfully manipulated the power of the state to compel those who earn to pay you yet another benefit. As is your style, you have “dressed up” this forced transfer of money by calling it a “right”. (an aside, does the right to free speech compel others to buy you a megaphone? the right to practice religion, a church?) You cleverly conceal the fact that it will be all wage earners who will be taxed to give you this unearned benefit, not just the diabolical 1%. And of course, you present the action plan for the future, when Obamacare does “not go far enough”. The mantra will then be an even more coercive “single payer”. Readers, as this process unfolds, consider the possibility that the reason medical care is so expensive is that it is the unfortunate recipient of 70+ years of governmental intervention, manipulation, and regulation. Like college tuition and housing, once the government decides to “make something affordable”, look out, shortages and wild cost increases are sure to follow. It doesn’t happen in fairly unregulated industries like cars, computers, clothing, food, etc. Think about it as you hear the cries for yet more government intervention in this or that.

    Reply
  5. pinky

    ah, Bob, David and, ahem, “Only Truth”….

    hey everyone, check out the experts on how the system works, and their incontrovertible fact that this amounts to stealing their hard-earned paychecks to give healthcare to the “undeserving”!

    if you got cancer and suddenly your insurance dropped you i’m sure you’d willingly consign yourselves to the “undeserving” pile, or better yet, off yourselves so you wouldn’t be a burden on all those good people who have money to circumvent that obviously-deserved misfortune.

    what good Americans you are!
    hey, where are their medals for heartless-bs-mouthing-robots-of-the-year awards…

    Reply
  6. OnlyTruth

    Pinkster !
    Unfortunately with our Medical-Industrial-Legal Machine, most of the bucks which now will be taken from those who have some bucks, or borrowed from those foolish enough to buy the US Debt, will not be going to the “you” who got cancer. Most expensive care in the hospitals goes to people who have brought illness upon themselves through cigarettes, drugs, obesity, etc. The 80 year old senile person gets dialysis when his kidneys fail, feeding tubes when he is too demented to eat. There are drugs which cost over $100,000 per year and give maybe a few months extra a life for the poor souls who get them. The army of administrators and claim filers and management personnel dwarf the number of caregivers. Why, because the gov’t is paying for it. Our system now spends on the average, more per person than the average person has paid in taxes their whole life ! Its so damn expensive that now people have to be forced to pay into it ! That is the essence of Obamacare, feeding this monster. I’m just saying, it don’t seem right that the gov’t take on another huge obligation when its got already an expanding 16 trillion dollar debt ! Is it just me or should this be obvious to everyone ?

    Reply
  7. Jonatton Yeah?

    We pay for it anyway. The uninsured are a huge burden upon the health care system – both financially and from a public health perspective. Is ACA expensive? Yeah. Duh. Brilliant insight. The fact is health care is expensive any way you slice it. This country needs a health safety net. That’s a reality whether you put your hands over your eyes or not. Pathogens align themselves along socioeconomic lines, but they will cross those lines with ease. As a health care professional within SFDPH working with the poorest and hardest to reach, I can tell you that you would be astounded if you saw some of the things I see – from gnarly syphilis outbreaks to drug-resistant TB to HIV-positive sex workers. The care for the poor is pretty good, all things considered, but for those just above the poverty level the system of care is woefully inadequate. ACA addresses that. The Republicans and the rest of the anti-health care pillocks had their chance to draft a system of care but they sat on their hands, they put their fingers in their ears, and they did fuck all. And now they’re moaning about the – thanks to them – watered-down system that’s now in place. Laughable. Well, it would be if it wasn’t so pathetic.

    Reply
  8. Laura McCamy

    Thank you, Jonatton, for saying everything I would have said. Thank you also for using the word “pollock.” Love it.

    I don’t understand the point of view that fails to see improved health for all community members as a general good for society. But, even if you look at it in a purely monetary light, our current healthcare system makes no sense, Treating uninsured people in emergency rooms when their conditions are critical is much more expensive than preventative care and early treatment. All of us pay for indigent care, either way. I would much rather pay for my neighbors to receive better healthcare with better outcomes.

    I also want to point out that the stereotype that universal coverage is to benefit moochers is a straw man. The people with health care crises I mentioned in my article, all real, are educated and hard working, mostly middle class, white collar workers. There but for the grace of god go every one of us before the Affordable Care Act – one health crisis away from ruin.

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  9. OnlyTruh

    No moochers around? Look at the explosive surge in “disability” claims which will bankrupt the federal fund for social security disability within the year. Lawyers profit, you pay. I am not astounded at HIV infected sex workers. The ACA is best characterized by as the mother of all “enablers”. Are smokers and others more likely to quit their bad habits when the bad consequences of these habits are ameliorated by the “right” to health care? Health care is not expensive if you don’t “have” to pay for it. On the other hand when you do “have” to pay for it, you just get ever more demand for it. Thats the path we are on, and it ends only when the beneficiaries run out of other people’s money.

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  10. Jonatton Yeah?

    What a load of rambling nonsense. I look forward to hearing from you in a year when social security for disability is still in place and not bankrupt. And health care is expensive and we pay for it anyway. You can pretend that you don’t. That’s your business. But in the world of reality (as in “real”), you do. We all do. You pay financially and you pay in your own health. You can pretend you live in a bubble and you can pretend you’re not an animal and you can pretend there aren’t pathogens out there whose existence makes you sick. You can pretend that smokers are an “other” and that said smokers have no stake in your own health. I can pretend that pigs fly.

    ACA is going to be expensive at the beginning but it will be a huge money saver in the long term thanks to preventative care and outcome-based panel management. What’s your solution? Hand-sitting, pretending, bubble-living, and smoker-whining are not sufficient answers.

    Reply
  11. OnlyTruth

    It is nonsense to someone who believes that it is government’s job to take care of the people. This viewpoint sees the populace as a herd to be managed. I think that viewpoint leads stagnation as people lose the impetus for initiative. It also leads to tyranny, since the coddled, increasingly debilitated citizenry need more and more draconian measures to satisfy their needs and desires. They are incentivized to do little for themselves, so they must turn to a leader who promises to wring the blood out of the stone, i.e. taxes from the increasingly fewer productive citizens. America used to be composed of independent individuals who relied on their own efforts and the voluntary assistance of their friends, family or private sources of capital to advance themselves. Thats how progress is made, not through yet another entitlement, government mandate, or invention of a specious “right” to this or that. As far as “paying” for healthcare. You are right, we all do pay for it. We are forced to. Thats why the costs are out of control. We keep experimenting with constructions to replace the simple and eternal “supply and demand” to set prices, but we cannot succeed, you will see.

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  12. OnlyTruth

    Oh I forgot this. As far as Obamacare saving money, I only refer to the experience of the last big government medical program. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee predicted that the new Medicare program, launched the previous year, would cost about $12 billion in 1990. Actual Medicare spending in 1990 was $110 billion—off by nearly a factor of 10.
    This astounding bit of evidence did not convince any Democrats that the program needed to be reined in.

    Reply
  13. Jonatton Yeah?

    Providing health care to people is not “coddling.” It’s a matter of public safety. Is the military “coddling” the public by making them too weak to protect themselves for outside invaders? No. It’s not. Health is the same thing.

    Look, we all agree that in an ideal world a public health care system would not be needed. This ideal world wouldn’t have HIV, TB, or MRSA either. The thing is, ideal isn’t real. You harp on about the American exceptionalism of years long gone which is a) probably quite offensive to anyone that isn’t white, b) lame in its revisionism, and c) irrelevant because today is different; today people can take themselves and their diseases across the country in half a day.

    HIV is a pretty good example of what happens when a government completely ignores public health. The virus wound have ravaged Africa either way, but there is zero excuse for it spreading as quickly as it did in the US. None. And HIV is a very inefficient virus – tough as hell but pretty hard to catch. If a flu outbreak akin to 1918 happens again, the financial cost alone will be billions. Billions! Having a system in place to not only provide care to the sick but to also prevent others from getting sick will save countless lives and dollars.

    Once again, what’s your answer? Nothing? Some huge fend-for-yourself system because that’s how it was in fucking Deadwood (you know, the “real” america) or whatever?

    Reply
  14. OnlyTruth

    AIDS is a good example. Don’t be promiscuous, avoid anal sex with strangers, don’t inject drugs and share needles, you won’t get AIDS. I remind you that there has been no cure for AIDS, no vaccine. Who knows whether expensive drugs will be developed once the drug industry is nationalized? Anyway, as you know, infectious diseases are a tiny fraction of health care costs, most are due to old age, obesity, cigarettes etc. To portray them as the typical risk that the populace faces, held back only by continuing bankrupting expenses, is disingenuous.
    I don’t have an answer to the problem of mortality. I save my money, try to keep healthy, and have purchased a high deductible health insurance plan. Its still too expensive, because health care is too expensive in America because the government has turned it into a monster. By the way, with a 16+ trillion dollar debt, and hundred billion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see for America, what do you think will happen?

    Reply
  15. Jonatton Yeah?

    Health care is expensive in America because the government has turned it into a monster? I certainly hope you’re some corporate shill because there is no other excuse for spewing such absolute bullshit. Health care in America is expensive because the health care system in place, the privatized system, has put monitary motivations ahead of public health and public safety.

    And your characterization of HIV is a joke. I love how you seem to think governement being involved in public safety is somehow evil and wrong, but you deciding what behaviors are okay is just totally kosher. Should people be injecting drugs? Probably not. How do you plan on getting people to stop? What’s the plan, genius? And your faux-morality, a “morality” where the poor and the sick are left to fend for themselves, is anything but moral. It’s snooty, arrogant, and amounts to little more than sticking your head in the sand. “If people were just more like me and just did the things I do then the world would blah blah blah blah blah blah….” Give it a rest…

    Furthermore, the drug industry is not being nationalized. There is no HIV vaccine or cure and there doesn’t need to be one. With an adequate system in place – you know, a public system that addresses health for people who aren’t profitable to the private sector – people will get tested, they’ll get on ARV, and their viral loads will be undetectable. This This “cascade” model can and will be used in other health-related issues because it works.

    Anyway, done here. Not point in talking to someone who’s already made up their mind and does little more than seek out internet links to confirm their bias. Corporate hacks unite!

    Reply
  16. OnlyTruth

    Boy Jon you are one nasty ___. But there does seem to be enough rationality left in you to sign out when the issue of national debt, deficits, and cost is brought up. No answer there, eh? No one says the poor should be left “to fend for themselves” but forced charity is not charity, it is theft. Feel free to donate, I do, it has moral virtue. But the government taking ever increasing percentages of my income to waste, is not my idea of a good thing.

    Reply

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