From Death Panels to Individual Liberty: The Affordable Care Act

If you are like me and want to know more about the Affordable Care Act be prepared to wade through the murky waters of fact versus fiction.  Moreover, much if not all of what is heard about the Affordable Care Act has been the GOP’s advertisements and slander of the law, which as far as content is concerned amounts to noise.  From the jeeringly gaudy posters about socialized medicine and Obamacare,  to the  recent firestorm regarding the central provision of the law, there seems to be enough subterfuge to hide the merits of the law from sight.  Between the murky water (i.e., discerning fact from fiction) and the noise (i.e., the loud protesters and cute slogans), it has been almost impossible to really get a grasp on what’s at stake with the Affordable Care Act.  Given the GOP’s all-encompassing campaign to get rid of this law, why does this new law still have a 38 percent approval rating?  And more importantly—why should you care?


Politicians Say The Darndest Things

Politicians say the “darndest” things. No, seriously they do.  Last week it was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs patronizing American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan by condescendingly comparing her tough interrogation to his son’s temper tantrums. Don’t believe me, ask Summer. Yesterday it was Harry Reid, tomorrow it will be someone else. Can I blame them for their candidness? Absolutely not. Sometimes Freudian slips are the only way we as the public can see the real side of government officials. While Robert Gibbs’ comments were as Summer put “sexually racialized” or “racially sexualized”, I think Harry Reid’s comments were right on point. Yeah I said it. 

In a prepared floor speech on Monday Harry Reid compared Republican efforts to block health care reform, to anti-abolitionists who wanted to maintain that thing called the “peculiar institution” and the folks who wanted to keep Blacks and Women as second-class citizens.  

Reform the Reform Debate

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve seen the ubiquity of the health care skirmish. I refuse to recognize it as a debate because debates are civil. While I don’t believe the raucous town hall meetings are an indicator of the overall American sentiment regarding healthcare, I do believe it illustrates the looming strength and cohesiveness of the conservative wing. Ultra-conservatives don’t even make up half of the Republican base however they are vociferous and unrelenting. Those are the only traits you need to make the news cycle. Because we see Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (D) getting shouted at by an elderly man or Representative Kathy Castor of Florida (D) being silenced by an unruly mob, it’s easy to believe that the prospects for health care reform are dead. Not quite.

Sick and Tired: Being Black, Woman, Poor, Sick, and (Uninsured)

In 1964 at the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer said, “All my life I’ve been sick and tired . . . Now, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Even though these words were distinctively about Southern racism, I find myself unconsciously gravitating to these words to talk about the current health care debate and what it means for poor women of color, like my older sister, Trina. Right now, my heart is heavy because for the last eight years my sister has battled various infections, muscle diseases, fevers, weight loss, weight gain, swollen hands and swollen feet, relentless body aches and chills while working at jobs that either did not provide health insurance or provided health insurance only after 12 months of full time labor.

Not only has she battled infectious and muscle depilating diseases mostly uninsured, but she also has to contend daily with the demands of her pink collared job and the invasive downright dehumanizing practices of the welfare agency that says, “You cannot make a certain amount of money and receive food stamps.” So, my sister like many poor women of color must make tradeoffs meaning only one parent can work and the other must stay at home and watch the child because daycare is expensive and to receive food stamps and health insurance for your children you must live on the poverty line. Isn’t this maddening. Isn’t sickening. I feel sick. I tell you, there are days when I do not even have to look at my sister to know she’s sick and she’s tired of having to negotiate the demands of living at the crossroads of poverty, labor market’s demands, blackness, femaleness, being a wife, being a mother, being a recipient of governmental aide, being a survivor of parental domestic violence, and at the end of the day being the uninsured sick.

So my heart is heavy.

So, my question is what do you do when you’re not only sick, but tired, black, woman, poor, and uninsured? How do you survive? What is your fate?

Perhaps, it’s my sister’s fate enduring the inconsistent findings of clinic doctors who are often over burdened with caseloads. Or, perhaps it’s my mother’s fate where you simply ignore the pains and pretend your weight loss is because of your new diet and that it has nothing to do with the boil on your leg. Perhaps, it’s the fate of my aunt who simply uses other people’s prescriptions to ease her bodily pains. Or, perhaps it’s the fate of countless numbers of black women who die from Cancer because they catch it too late and can’t afford premium healthcare. Perhaps, these examples are tad bit dramatic and may deviate from most black women’s everyday reality. However, it seems quite likely that these examples are widespread. You ignore your sickness. You find cost effective strategies to buy medicine. You simply die because you don’t get treated. It’s pretty unfair that only those who can afford health care should be healthy.

Well, I started this post by talking about my sister because for the last week she’s been in the intensive care unit and I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around how she got to where she is . . . always fighting for dear life. And it finally dawned on me that it was not just that she was uninsured most of her life, but that other variables are at play like how her receptionist job exploits her labor making her work long hours without “adequate” compensation, like how society looks at her as if she’s a bad mother because sometimes she feeds my niece and nephew McDonalds, like how her social welfare caseworker test her truthfulness every time she walks though their governmental door, like how she had to grow-up way before most children do to become a surrogate mother for me and my siblings often neglecting herself, and like how she had to endure an education system that prized her athletic skills and not her ability to excel academically, and countless other “like how” variables.

Yes, some of you are saying that this post is about healthcare why add other variables? My response is simply this: “Walk a day in my sister’s shoes and tell me what you see. As you walk burdens weigh down on you making you more susceptible to disease perhaps even becoming sicker than she.” Yes, this is a wee bit dramatic, but the point is simply this that many oppressive things converged to make my sister in the timeless words of Fannie Lou Hamer, sick and tired.

Perhaps, this national health care debate is not simply about granting governmental run health care, perhaps its about examining the mutli-layered physically oppressive nature of being at the intersection of poverty, sexism, and racism.

Obama, You Are Doomed to Fail, Unless You're Jesus!

Like most black children growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward, I spent most of my life medically uninsured. If you got sick, you stayed home and endured the experimental ministering of your grandmother whose medical knowledge consisted of a spoonful of Castor Oil, two drops of sweet oil in each ear, and effectual prayer to “dah” Lord. To say the least, being sick and uninsured was not fun—and not because Castor Oil tasted like day old paint—but because it leaves you, the infirmed and uninsured, wondering if you’re healed. This is not to say that medical school is the only way you learn how to heal the human body. Clearly, I’m still alive today because of my grandmother’s medicinal concoctions and faith in God. However, having access to medical insurance can make life easier and long-lived.  Just ask the countless numbers of people who discover through a doctor’s visit that they have Cancer or Diabetes and have caught it right in the nick of time.

Yes, having access to a doctor can save your life. It can also reduce the stress of having to lie, steal, kill, and cheat in order to get the medical treatments you need. I can recall the many lies my mother had to fabricate to update my sisters’ and I’s shot records and the unlawful amounts of money clinic’s doctors charged to give my older sister and me annual physicals so that we could play school sports. We could not afford to be sick. Sickness was a privilege of the wealthy (i.e. white people) and a curse for us, the working class, because sickness meant a loss of work hours, possible job termination, increased consumption of alcohol by my father because he could not pay the medical bills, bellies filled to the brim with the quintessential cure-alls—cod liver oil and castor oil—and the possibility of an unknown death. Being sick was a curse.

Because of all of this I am a huge proponent of universal health care. Therefore, I’m very upset with how President Barack Obama is handling the “government run” health care debate. Simply hosting town hall meetings and press conferences do not get at the root of why so many Americans are anti-universal health care or anti-government run health care. This issue is not simply about framing or reframing a message of why people should support government run health care as seen in the Harry and Louise’s commercials. It’s about radically altering people’s ideas about whose deserving and who’s undeserving primarily based upon this allegedly neutral idea of hard work. An idea that says, “Hey, I work hard so I receive health insurance through my job. Okay. Others don’t work hard so they don’t get health insurance and shouldn’t receive it free through the government . . . Shoot, government always trying to spend my hard earned money on lazy ass people.”

Yes, many Americans are sounding like Oscar the Grouch (Please click on the link) when it comes to extending medical coverage to the uninsured because they assume that the reasons why people are not covered is because they are not working hard enough or have made bad choices to make coverage an unlikely possibility. To see evidence of this, just randomly click through news channels reporting on the health care debate. All in all, people don’t want to sign on to Obama’s plan because in their minds they unequivocally believe they are suffering for a few lazy poor decision-making Americans . . . as if 45.7 million uninsured people were a small number of people. And of course, conservatives are profiting from blatantly touting this rhetoric in commercials and in press conferences.

But now that I think about it, perhaps, I am giving conservatives too much credit they are simply harnessing a belief system that has been hanging around since the first enactment of the 18th century Poor Laws which only provided welfare for those who could not work—young children, widows, the disabled, and non able bodied people.

If President Obama hopes to save some semblance of his government-run health care plan, he needs to do something that will literally and figuratively eject people out of their staunch individualistic beliefs. But what would it take to do that? Is it even possible? Is it possible to change people’s beliefs about whose deserving and who is undeserving when people are taught from birth that only people who “work hard” receive help? Of course, this idea of whose deserving is further complicated by the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality where often African Americans and Latino Americans are stereotyped as people who are undeserving because they are caricatured as lazy people who fleece Uncle Sam by collecting numerous welfare checks from having children by different “daddies.”

Given this notion of the deserving public and the undeserving public, it appears as if President Obama’s government run health care plan is doomed to fail.  That is, unless he is able to perform a miracle of changing people’s minds. Unless he is able to show them that using an idea of “hard work” that is framed and defined by the middle and upper class to determine who “deserves” to be healthy is deeply problematic and antithetical to community building. If Obama is unable to change public opinion then he will be as Jesus was healing the uninsured sick, himself.