The Health Care Games

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(Note: Due to being in the middle of both a huge writing project and a huge editing project right now, I probably won’t be able to blog that much for the remainder of the year. I apologize for that, and encourage you all to follow me on my Twitter and Facebook and Google+, which I’m able to update much more often than the .org.)

Over the past few years, Mom has taken to watching game shows a lot. I think it’s kind of her way of keeping her brain active, since her eyesight really doesn’t allow her to read all that much (although I may try to rig a tablet for her to help with that once I have the money). Since she naps a couple of times every day, she usually keeps Game Show Network on the downstairs television, so it’s there for her whenever she gets up. This means I’m starting to memorize some recent episodes of Family Feud, but given how funny the show has been since Steve Harvey took over as host a few years ago, I’m not complaining about that much.

Yesterday, though, just as I was about to go out and do some grocery shopping for Mom, I saw that she had Minute to Win It on her television. (The old NBC version hosted by Guy Fieri, not the revival GSN is currently producing in-house.) Some man had just won $50,000 or so, and Fieri was interviewing him. The contestant talked about how his young child had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and even though an operation to remove the tumor had been successful, his child still needed CAT scans every three months, so he needed the money he was winning on the game show to pay for his child’s medical treatments.

I’ve watched enough game shows in my life — I honestly credit them with helping me develop my math skills when I was young, learning basic addition and subtraction through shows like The Price is Right — that it’s easy to get lost in the spectacle of them. At that moment, though, I couldn’t help taking a step back and critically analyzing what I was seeing. The nation — this was a primetime broadcast on NBC when it first aired — was watching a man put himself through ridiculous physical challenges just to make money to make sure his child wouldn’t have to deal with the aftereffects of a brain tumor, frequently being forced to decide whether or not to risk the money he’d already earned in hopes of getting an even larger sum of money. All while the nation watched on in amusement as he bounced balls into cups, or scooted himself on his butt around the arena with a towel under him, or all the other games that are part of Minute to Win It.

If there’s a more encompassing snapshot of all that is wrong with America right now than watching that man embarrass himself on national television to get money for his sick kid, I’m not sure I want to know about it.

Given that I was watching this in the aftermath of the government shutdown and near-default on the national debt brought on by last-ditch conservative attempts to stop more provisions of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare from coming into effect, perhaps I was more sensitive to this than I would have been otherwise. I had students whose parents were furloughed due to the shutdown, and others who lost access to important government services they needed to just to be able to feed their young children. I did what I could there to find resources for struggling students and get information about those resources disbursed through campus, but I was doing so in the wake of far-right lunatics babbling on and on about closed monuments being the most heinous result of the shutdown that they, themselves, forced on the country.

There will be time later to dissect the horrors that Tea Party Republicans inflicted not just on this country, but themselves, with all this shutdown and near-default craziness. The most telling polls from recent weeks, however, show that not only has disapproval of the Republican Party hit all-new highs, but that approval of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare continues to trend up, and this in spite of the fact that the rollout of healthcare.gov has been, if not a disaster, then something darn close to it. I’ve been stymied dozens of times trying to sign up for the site — it won’t load in Chrome on my desktop, I can’t use it on my tablet because the PDF files it generates aren’t readable using the latest PDF viewers for Android, and even when I hold my nose and load up Internet Explorer, I still have to spend fifteen minutes filling out the same form, only to get stuck at the same spot near the end every time — and I’ve all but given up on trying again until around Thanksgiving in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the glitches will be worked out of the system by then. (Don’t hold your breath on that.)

I don’t have a choice but to sign up, because even though the site tells me I’m eligible for Medicaid (I’m certainly well below the income threshold), Ohio won’t let me sign up for Medicaid on their site, and I need to figure out just what in the heck I’m supposed to do here. I hate to think that I’ll wind up being one of the millions of people who will slip through the Obamacare cracks, but I’m bracing myself for that very possibility. I know that these things take time to get working right, but given the short timetable we’ve all been given to sign up and get some kind of insurance coverage, and how little spare time I have these days to start with, I’m not going to shut up about the problems I’m having just to placate Obama supporters.

Lost in the midst of all the discussion of American health care, the ad hominem and the scare tactics and the disinformation, is the plain and simple fact that the system we had before Obamacare jist did not work well for anyone except the insurance companies making billions upon billions of dollars off of it. When half of personal bankruptcies in a country are caused by one thing — medical bills — then there is a huge problem. When you consider that when hospitals can’t recoup their expenses even by bankrupting people, they have to raise their prices on everyone else, thus increasing everyone’s health care expenses, it’s nothing short of insanity. I have serious issues with parts of Obamacare, but instead of entering into a discussion about what the problems with our previous health care system were, and how to fix them, Republicans and conservatives got so hooked on the Obama hate machine that there was no discussion. There was only “repeal Obamacare” repeated ad nauseum, and no real plan to take care of the other problems with health care. (No, the false Republican panacea of tax cuts and gutting regulations doesn’t count.)

Nowhere have the optics of this been clearer than in the commercial Organizing for Action put out this past summer, showing a young girl with severe medical conditions much like the child of that Minute to Win It contestant. Because of the parts of Obamacare that had already gone into effect, her parents’ insurance company had to cover that child’s medical expenses, and couldn’t use any of the usual insurance company tactics to weasel their way out of paying. It was a very effective commercial, because it placed an unthinkable price tag on the repeal of Obamacare: A young girl’s life. Instead of coming up with an alternative plan to make sure that even young children with life-threatening maladies — let’s leave aside adults who are expected to make their own health care decisions for a moment — wouldn’t have to die because of the way the health care system and health insurance companies are run, conservatives just put new batteries in their bullhorns and screamed “REPEAL OBAMACARE!” even louder.

Maybe that kind of things plays well to their base — and if there are conservatives out there who would actually cheer on events that would certainly bring about the death of a young girl, then that is a worse snapshot of America than what I saw on Minute to Win It — but I can’t believe that Republicans see this as any kind of winning strategy, unless they somehow find a way to keep all these insane voter suppression laws in place to make sure that Democratic-leaning demographic groups aren’t allowed to vote in the same numbers as Republican-leaning groups. Given that a Republican official in North Carolina basically admitted to that very strategy on The Daily Show earlier this week — and said some unspeakably racist things in doing so — maybe that is the plan, to make sure people who aren’t like them simply don’t count.

That really goes back to the heart of this debate, because the most common rallying cry for anti-Obamacare forces has been that they don’t want the government making their health care decisions for them. For me, and tens of millions of others, right now we’re dealing with the “free market” deciding that we don’t get any health care at all, unless we get really sick and can’t help going to the emergency room, in which case we’re more than likely on a short and painful road to personal bankruptcy and ruin. You don’t hear that in conservative talk about health care, though, because we don’t matter to them. Whether it’s because we’re poor, or we didn’t vote for their politicians, or we don’t follow their religion, or they don’t like the colour of our skin, we’re considered nothing more than expendable human resources. Pay us minimum wage and work us until we literally can’t work any longer, then toss us in the garbage and replace us with the next generation of expendable humans. (Deny women access to abortion, and you guarantee yourself a nice big supply of those. Get their plan now?)

Game shows should be places where people win mad money for vacations and other luxuries, not make a spectacle of themselves just so their kids won’t get really sick again. Hospitals should be places where people go to get better, not guarantee themselves a life of penury. Congress should be a place where our elected officials go to fix the problems of this nation, not deliberately cripple all the mechanisms in place to provide that help. Which of those places do you think has the highest percentage of mentally sick people in charge right now?

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