Thursday, July 16, 2009

The free money health care reform.

I preface this post by saying that I neither believe the claims that America must act right now to save the health care system nor do I believe that cost is so prohibitive that we shouldn't look at some legislation. In short, I strongly dislike soundbites that are so one sided and simple that the issue can be summarized by your political party leader of choice. My irritation with the current goings ons in Washington is the ignorance of those that this reform would most impact. Those that would be taxed to pay for it won't hear of benefiting their fellow man. Those that would benefit from it won't take a few minutes to educate themselves on what the programs would mean.

With all of this squabbling, I interact on a regular basis with those that this program would benefit at my place of employment. These individuals provide a small glimpse at what America sees and understands of the process.

In working retail with modest (at best) wage earners, many of my employees barely can afford to live paycheck to paycheck. The promise of free health insurance is incredibly appealing. Of course, it isn't free, but it's free to them, which I believe is one of the most telling communication issues of health care reform.

A couple of my employees were discussing the health care issue at work the other day with some having varying degrees of comprehension and apathy toward the scenario. One employee, a single mother, spoke very excitedly of a new government plan saying, "We'll be just like Canada where all health care is free! You don't pay anything!"

If you tell someone making 9 dollars an hour that the government is going to come in and take care of their health insurance, understandably they are excited that this burden is lifted from them. What they don't consider is the trickle down effect of those that are paying for their insurance. Those that are making money and employing them and paying these extra taxes now have one more expense that ultimately will influence the bottom line - the benefits they currently offer employees and the ability to employ the numbers they do. The political debate can come in and be wrestled with in Washington on whether it's more beneficial to have fewer employed but with insurance or to have more employed without insurance. That I'm not going to touch, but the perception that it's free is a terrible misnomer that should be and needs to be understood by all involved. I grow frustrated with the "it's good for me, be damned if I'm going to look at the bigger picture" mentality that government programs generate. I'm not anti-government, I just want people to slow down and take a look at the consequences of decisions rather than race to what's immediately best for them.

At the barber shop today, I was in a lull in between reexplaining for the nth time in five years my profession and a bad joke when a long time customer entered the shop. The man was a farmer and after some discussion said that he voted for our current president for the fact that he would receive a greater subsidy from one candidate than the other. He disagreed with this candidate on every other issue but because the government would give him something, he voted the way he did. To each his own, but the man readily admitted he was doing fine without the subsidy but that he was enjoying the "free" money. I take less offense at the vote than I do with the now repeated concept of "free money."

I wish I had some magic potion that Americans could take to see that nothing is free. Health care reform is not off limits because it costs money, but if everyone could just educate themselves on where the money will come from and what that means, then we could have a meaningful conversation on the pros and cons of such a plan. But we can't even get to that point because the top earners instantly clam up on any discussion of penalizing them for their success and the low earners won't look past the immediate gratification of what benefits them at the expense of others.

Another example, I have one employee who works to provide for her child, regularly looking for more hours. Over time, the store needed some extra help and I was able to accommodate her request for additional work. Her average hours per work increased to the point where she qualified as a full-time employee, which in turn qualified her for employee sponsored health care (full time employees are the only ones who qualify at work for health insurance). She wrestled with continuing work and signing up for health care insurance or reducing her hours to the point where she would once again become a part-time employee. Why do the latter? Because as a part-time employee who doesn't qualify for health insurance, the government would provide her with "free coverage."

Again, I am going to avoid the politics of we should go this way or that, but shouldn't we live in a society where people a.) understand that nothing the government does is free and b.) people should be willing to take a personal responsibility in what they do? I cringe at work at the barber shop, at work, and anywhere else when I hear talk of "free government" help. The government is there to help and should help, but can we all agree that all action requires money from somewhere? The discussion of whether the costs are worth it are a whole other world away - one that politicians are debating - while the rest of America wallows in self ignorance.


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