I don’t think that it too often occurs that President Obama and I are contemplating the same issues. While he sits in the Oval Office, mulling over the restructuring of the auto industry, I am in aisle seven doing a price comparison on laundry detergents. While he is contemplating the best methods for stimulating our economy, I am thoughtfully considering how to stimulate my children into cleaning their rooms. (I leave you to judge which is the more difficult task, but my money is on the room-cleaning stimulus plan.) However, this week the unexpected occurred. I heard that our commander-in-chief is preparing to take on the health care system. Though little of his behavior and policy in his first one hundred days has changed my opinion of Mr. Obama, I must admit, after having spent several hours (okay, what seemed like hours) trying to resolve a disputed medical bill, I had to feel sorry for the guy. Good luck, Mr. President, is all I have to say.
Actually that isn’t all I have to say (big surprise, right?). Having so often heard people speak of the woes of not having health insurance, without much reflection I have considered myself and my family lucky to be counted among the medically insured. But over the years, I have become increasingly frustrated with the system and have even begun to question the legitimacy of the whole enterprise. I first must distinguish between “My kid has cancer and will be spending the next three months in the hospital” kind of catastrophic health insurance and “I have an in-grown toenail and need to get it lanced” kind of coverage. Having had several friends go through the difficulties of dealing with children with significant health issues, I see the obvious benefits of the former. Having struggled for years to come to a minimal understanding of co-pays and deductibles, I distrust and secretly loathe the latter. Perhaps I display my ignorance here, but health insurance seems to somehow be a sickness-causing cure. My skepticism began when a friend shared with me that the only medical procedures to have decreased in price over time are cosmetic surgery and Lasik eye surgery—two things not covered by insurance. My basic understanding of economics (and John Stossel’s exhaustive research) would suggest that there is a connection between competition and lower prices. (Here is a link to the report my friend was quoting.) Having made this connection between restraints on the free market and the rising cost of health care, I have started to feel a bit dirty inside each time I present my insurance card at a doctor’s office. If health insurance drives up medical costs, then aren’t those of us with insurance essentially making it harder on those without? Rather than trying to help more people get insurance, shouldn’t we focus on positive alternatives that make health care more affordable? (For one such alternative, check out this story.)
Not only does health insurance make it more difficult for those who are uninsured, it also seems to reward those who neglect or abuse their bodies. While paying for the consequences of overeating, lack of exercise and innumerable other vices such as smoking and excessive drinking, insurance companies—at least ours—seem to punish you for being healthy. When was the last time your health insurance company cut you a break for working out regularly or eating fruits and vegetables?
Recently, Jim and I discussed possibly increasing our life insurance coverage. This is something that we had been encouraged to do and to seemed to make sense when couched in the language of “You don’t want your kids to be orphaned andhomeless, do you?” But after much discussion, Jim convinced me that the increase really wasn’t consistent with our philosophy of life. Yes, we want to have enough coverage to make sure our kids were cared for, but we don’t think it is necessary for them to be left with individual trust funds at their disposal. The same is true with health insurance. We want to make sure that they are able to get the care they need and goodness knows that insurance has been a great help with the cost of Bailey’s treatments for allergies, but when is enough, enough? We feel trapped into participating in a frustratingly illogical system for simple lack of an alternative. I realize the complexity of this issue and welcome your input. Maybe health insurance, like sickness, death, and overly-high speed bumps, is just another consequence of the fall. Another tear to be wiped from the face of humanity upon entrance into heaven. Or perhaps, this is an area where we as Christians can attempt to establish the Kingdom on earth. Either way, if reforms fail, at least we will all be able to enter the pearly gates with great eyesight and freshly liposuctioned thighs. What a relief, hey Mr. President?