What Would You Do If You Had Guaranteed Health Care?

Sara Robinson

This was the Campaign for America’s Future’s Big Afternoon at the Big Tent. CAF took over the Digg Stage (the entire upstairs floor of The Big Tent) for a series of four panels addressing some of the Big Questions we wrestle with here.

One of the highlights for me was Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s presentation, which was part of the second hour’s health care panel. She cited an avalanche of statistics describing what condition our condition is in (and I don’t need to tell you: it’s not good). Two in particular leaped out at me. One (which I knew) is that an American dies due to lack of health care access every 30 seconds. The second (which I did not know) is that Americans are being driven into bankruptcy by health care costs at exactly the same rate. Sixty thousand deaths, sixty thousand bankruptcies, every single year.

(Update: A perspicacious commenter points out that Schakowsky’s math was a little off. Sixty thousand deaths (or bankruptcies) works out to about one every ten minutes. My bad for not working the numbers out myself before posting them.)

Schakowsky also said that health care hasn’t been a hot-button political issue to date because the political conventional wisdom says that nobody’s ever lost an election due to their health care position. That, she said, needs to change — starting with John McCain, whose plan will make things far worse than they are now (as if such a thing were possible).

As an American living in Canada, my permanent resident card (the Canadian version of a green card) entitles me to the services of that country’s health care system. I also still see doctors in the US, even though I’m no longer insured there. As a participant in both systems, I’ve written at some length here and here about the myths Americans tell each other about the Canadian system. Right now, I think there’s one important question we could ask Americans that would focus this debate, and take the conversation to the next level. It’s this:

What would you do with your life if you never had to worry about health care again?

It’s a hard thing for most Americans to imagine — but it’s odd how your vision of the future changes once you stretch your mind and see what it might be like.

Would you start a business of your own?

Go back to school to upgrade your skills, or retrain for an entirely new career?

Tell your toxic boss where to stick it, and find a job with reasonable hours and nice people?

Spend a few years at home with your kids?

Join the Peace Corps?

Move to a town that you really love?

Save some money up, and retire early?

I should probably warn you: You may get good and angry once you start to take stock of the huge trade-offs you’ve made over the years just to hold onto your health insurance. You may be even more angry when you realize that nobody else in the industrialized world has had to make those choices.

I live in a country where nobody is tied to a job they hate, or forced to give up important life opportunities just to hang onto a health care plan that may or may not even come through for them when they need it. Nobody ever declares bankruptcy because they can’t pay a medical bill, either: most Canadians find this as mind-blowing as Americans seem to find the “What would you do…?” question. Almost nobody dies because they can’t get care (and when it does happen, it’s a cause for national outrage).

Countries with universal coverage free up their citizens to take advantage of personal development opportunities that, in the long run, stimulate the economy and create a more skilled, traveled, educated, and fulfilled workforce. Americans, on the other hand, routinely stay chained to jobs they hate — and are forced to pass up on chances to expand their horizons and their fortunes — because they can’t afford to jeopardize their health care coverage.

Our health care mess has reached a point where it jeopardizes not only our lives, but also our liberty, our property, and our ability to pursue happiness — as well as the long-term strength of the economy as a whole.

We cannot abide more of the same. Let’s make sure John McCain pays the ultimate political price for his indifference to this issue — and that every other elected official hears, loud and clear, that health care is a right they ignore at their own peril.

In the meantime, indulge yourself in a little fantasy. What would you do with your life if you never had to worry about health care again? Tell us in the comments.