The so-called "health care debate" has left me winded. It is one of those cardinal topics that makes me realize how long I was away from the United States, and how much things changed, or didn't change at all, while I was away. Most of all, it has left me defeated, even despairing. It has left me feeling like an alien.
The issue of access to adequate health care is the single biggest problem we have faced returning to America. From a practical standpoint, this means that my husband and I basically do not have the option to take care of ourselves the way that we should, this because we are self-employed. His so-called "pre-existing condition", which consists of a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol for which he takes medication, made it impossible to get him an insurance policy on the individual market, regardless of his actual health, which is very, very good. Far better than the average American, especially in regards to his waistline. So being in Colorado, he was given the privilege of joining a "high risk" pool. I've heard this term knocked around during the debate, and I hope everyone understands what this really means... his premium is extremely high, and his deductible is $7500 annually. Believe me, the incongruity of my husband's situation with the people sitting behind desks in corporate offices chugging Big Gulps and Big Macs without a worry in the world is unnerving.
As for me, I have a measly $5000 deductible per event, and in the 3 years I have been buying insurance here, my premiums have doubled. My policy does not pay for doctor visits. For anyone who thinks I'm getting a raw deal, I should note that I shop insurance regularly, several times a month. The similarity of the premiums and deductibles in the plans offered to me is stunning. They may as well be the same company. And they cover barely anything, can kick me off at their whim, and are guaranteed to continue to raise premiums. Many people have bemoaned that in Italy the taxes are much higher than in America, but I can assure you that our premiums and annual deductibles make our real taxes here much higher. And In Italy I did not loose sleep wondering whether or not I could afford a necessary surgery.
From a practical standpoint, this is huge. I have several nagging health issues which I cannot afford to adequately treat. If the choice is between paying my deductible and then co-insurance or the mortgage, the mortgage wins. If the choice is between self-diagnosing on the Internet, or actually visiting the doctor, who of course then needs blood work, tests, specialist visits to treat my issues, I am forced to choose the Internet.That's just math.
Over the past several months, I have written a few articles and editorials about the subject. Each time I write about this topic, I try to write about my own family, and what the health care system in the United States means for us. I believe I have a unique perspective after living for 16 years in a country that guarantees health care to all of its people. Italy has the epitome of the demonized "government run health care system", and how I sorely miss it. Not only do I miss the ability to just go to the doctor when I am sick, but also the absence of the intense psychic drain that this issue has created in my life here in America.
My letters to the editor and articles have been met with such vehemence, ignorance and despair that I have stopped writing. There are never answers to my predicament in these responses (because there are none, obviously), only replies asking me why I don't "just leave!", and "if you don't like it here, why did you come back?". I can't even begin to respond to these comments, and there is the despair. I am also answered with stories from people who say they work at jobs they hate everyday to have access to health care, why don't I just go get a real job? Assuming that today it is so easy today to just "go get a real job with health benefits", why on earth should I have to do that? I run a thriving, successful business. I pay my taxes. I work long hours and provide excellent service. I am the small business at the heart of American entrepreneurialism that everyone is talking about! The small business person that everyone says they are fighting for. As for the numerous people who have written to me saying they have jobs they hate, I dare ask why is that acceptable in America? What the hell kind of system makes people believe they should give up their potential, not to mention their happiness (the same happiness pursed in the Constitution) in order to have access to health care? What is everybody thinking? What are we settling for?
I do not write these letters any longer. Many of the private responses I received were bordering on threatening, making me realize that this issue has gone far beyond health care, to a place that I do not even begin to comprehend. Several of the letters I received exclaimed that I wasn't "supporting our troops" when I criticized how things work in America, and when I explained why a system in another country was so much better for me and my family. That the entire rest of the industrialized world provides health care to its people is a moot point, probably. And why these people who are so afraid of "government run health care and socialized medicine" do not burn their medicare cards and put their money (and health) where their mouths are is also beyond me. And maybe those people who asked me why I don't just leave, get the hell out of Dodge, are actually right.