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.