In September, when I described how "Obamacare" had saved my life during bouts with bladder cancer, I expected a few emails. What I didn't expect was nearly 40 heartfelt missives. Most readers were complimentary, and a substantial number of them were anxious for more information about my treatment program. Others had already used the dreaded, socialistic program and were grateful. Naturally, two conservative gentlemen let me know they'd be happier if I had simply left this mortal coil rather than seek treatment, but you become inured to that kind of stuff in this job.
Last week, Mitt Romney had the gall to say that Obamacare wasn't needed since "no one in America dies because they don't have health insurance." That breathtaking bit of ignorance, as well as readers' responses to the Obamacare column, confirm the argument I made last month: Since plenty of Americans have already been helped by the Affordable Care Act, more journalists and pundits ought to get off their butts and report on the phenomenon. Why? Well, let's see: Americans' lives are being saved by a program that is at the center of a national debate, and in an election year, no less. How much more genuinely newsworthy does a story need to be before other journalists acknowledge it? Call me naïve, but the way I see it, if say, CNN, would take the effort it puts into stories about Justin Bieber throwing up and devote it to reports on medical success stories happening all over the country, that would be useful, significant news for viewers. That type of reporting would also fulfill the news station's journalistic responsibility to inform the public.
Besides, from the feedback I received, readers are genuinely interested in this kind of news. For example, Rebecca (I've used first names only) wrote, "Most people don't realize that Mitt Romney's allowance for pre-existing conditions would only work for people who NEVER had any lapse of insurance. ... Thanks for letting people know about their options." Jim wrote, "I am going to share this with all my relatives and friends in the mountains of east Tennessee who hate Obama so much."
David wrote that he had recently been in Britain, where he "was amazed to hear so many people asking me why it took the U.S. so long to get serious about health care for the masses. ... I just wanted you to know I really appreciated that you feel 'It's high time we journalists tell those people's stories' about the values experienced under the Affordable Care Act."
Perhaps the most interesting email came from Jeremy, who also was greatly helped by the federal high-risk pool set up by states through the Affordable Care Act. Unlike me, however, he still thinks it is a bad idea. "You and I, faced with a difficult situation, completely hosed North Carolina and the federal government for our medical bills," Jeremy wrote. "I don't see how ... an insurance program can be sustainable when the basic math entails me showing up with a few thousand dollars, but I walk away with tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a sham ... and mark my words, it's going to bankrupt this country."
Jeremy, I'm glad you're OK now, first of all. Thanks for sharing your perspective, but think of this: If your house is in flames, firefighters, which everyone else has paid for, will come to your home's rescue. It's a shared responsibility, entered into for the good of the community — like the roads we drive on, the schools we send our kids to, and so forth. My view is that in the modern world, access to decent health care should also be a shared responsibility. The National Priorities Project, a nonprofit think tank, has a laundry list of extremely expensive high-tech weapons systems that barely even work, all of which could be cut to pay for heightened health care access. Physicians for a National Health Program says a 4 percent tax on employers (a lot less than employers currently pay for employee insurance), a 6 percent surtax on the highest 5 percent of income-earners, and a small tax on financial transactions would easily pay for a single-payer system such as the one Canada provides, never mind the less expensive Obamacare. My hope is that good news about the lives the Affordable Care Act has already saved will change attitudes of Americans on the right.
If you want to know more about the federal high risk pool, which makes it possible for people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance, contact the Inclusive Health folks at 866-665-2117, or go to www.inclusivehealth.org, where the information is plentiful and well-organized. May you have the same good luck I did.