A relevant look at Health Care from a new mother

Politicians love citing individual stories on the campaign trail to illustrate their ability to connect with the average voter and reinforce the superiority of their positions on any given subject. These stories are often moving, if rarely informative, but it’s always more interesting to me to hear the background on how someone came to the decision to support a particular candidate.

A friend of mine who lives in Texas — an intelligent, married white woman under 40 who recently had her first child — posted privately in her journal yesterday about how she ultimately determined her preferred candidate based on her own research (imagine that!) of their positions on health care and I asked her permission to repost it (with personal details removed) because it’s as clear, unbiased and relevant an explanation of the differences between Clinton and Obama’s health care proposals as I’ve come across so far.

I’ve made up my mind about my democratic candidate, and it’s based on health care.

And my choice is Barack Obama.  Here is why.

My #1 issue this year is universal health care.  It’s a personal issue for me.  It was a terrifying experience for me to be pregnant and slightly above the income level Medicaid.  Since I was unemployed during [my daughter’s] birth and most of my pregnancy, I had to have health insurance.  And the only thing available to me was to continue my employer’s plan through COBRA, which was difficult to apply when I moved from PA to TX, and whose premiums were incredibly expensive.  Now, with [my daughter] to cover, I’m spending $600 a month to cover both of us monthly.  And that’s before co-pays, deductibles, and lab fees.  I’ve had to pay this with no income of my own–my daughter and I wouldn’t have insurance unless my mom hadn’t graciously paid the vast majority of my COBRA premiums.  I’m usually on the phone at least once a week with my insurance carrier getting bills adjusted, and I’m convinced the the system is utterly broken.  I loathe going to the doctor because I know it means I’m going to have to spend a couple hours on the phone with the insurance company in two months to get the visit paid for.  [My husband], who is working full-time as a contractor right now, has not had health insurance for about a year and remains uninsured.

I’ve been on the fence about both candidates for some time, and I finally decided to compare their health plans to make my decision.  I’m thrilled that both Democratic candidates are committed to universal health care.  It’s time for this ridiculous field day for HMOs and pharmacorps to end, and I would like to move as close to socialized medicine as possible (ah, Europe! Canada! You have it where it counts!).  Neither candidate offers that, but both are trying to at least ensure that all Americans have health insurance.  

Here’s what I found.  Both Obama’s and Clinton’s plans are pretty similar: they cover everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions or employment.  They both offer you the choice of opting into the Federal Employee’s Health Plan or Medicaid if you don’t have coverage or if you don’t like your current health coverage offered by your employer (if you work for the state of Texas, for example, there is only one plan you can get–no choice).  

Where they really differ is in how one is to pay for the coverage.  Hillary says that she will make premiums affordable by offering those with lower incomes a TAX CREDIT so that they can afford high-quality health care plans.  I think this is crap.  If I have cancer now and I can’t afford to pay my deductible and my monthly premium and whatever percentage of the treatment I’m responsible for under my plan, then having a tax credit in April of next year is not going to keep me from going bankrupt.  It’s basically the government saying, “You can have the health plan, just pay out of the nose now and we’ll hang on to that money for you until next summer while it earns interest and then we’ll give it back to you then when you’re bankrupt/dead, OK?”  Hillary’s plan also proposes limiting premiums to a percentage of a family’s income, but none of her literature says what that percentage is (I did quite a lot of digging on her website and found no concrete numbers on the subject).  So basically, we’d be at the mercy of whatever Congress thinks is a reasonable percentage of income to pay, and what is that?  Half of one’s income?  A third?  Seeing that I believe that the government should be paying 100% of our health care and drug costs, you can see where my beef is.

Obama, on the other hand, suggests that families who fall in that don’t-qualify-for-Medicaid-but-can’t-afford-regular-premiums (a.k.a. me and a lot of other working and middle class folks) qualify for GOVERNMENT-SUBSIDIZED payment of premiums based on income.  In other words, if you can’t pay the premiums, based on your income, the government helps you out now by paying for it now.  Given, this is a far cry from my ideal of socialized health care, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.  If you can’t pay, the government helps you then and there instead of next April.  As I read through Obama’s health care plan, I was impressed by his goals of taking pharmacorps and HMOs to task, as well as his commitments to HIV education and prevention.  Admittedly, these are painted in broad strokes, for which I know some of you will criticize him.  But I still feel like Obama better represents what I’m hoping from health care reform. Clinton may be more specific about her ideas, but I don’t feel they substantially address the problem or help families with their immediate health care crises.  Obama’s plan requires a little more work on behalf of our government, but his plan directly addresses what’s going on with families now.

So that’s it.  I’m voting for Obama.  That’s still doesn’t get you Hillary-haters off the hook for jokes about pantsuits and PMS, though.  My mama didn’t name me [after a very famous woman] for nothing.

As Obama is fond of saying, it’s not that people don’t want health insurance, it’s that many of them simply cannot afford it. Health care insurance is not akin to car insurance and mandating that everyone must have it, as Clinton (and Edwards) proposes, without ensuring that it is affordable to everyone and threatening to garnish the wages of those who choose not to take it is about as wrong-headed and ill-conceived a policy proposal as I’ve seen put forth by a major candidate, and yet that important aspect of Clinton’s plan has gotten very little play in the discussion to-date as she’s successfully spun the story to focus on whose plan covers more people without looking how hers “covers” more people.

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