I was 16 when my mom figured out one of her friends was being abused by her husband. Mom did what she could. She tried to talk to her friend. She gave her phone numbers for shelters and domestic violence hotlines. She proposed escape plans.
"Half your audience is from the Green Party and the other half is from the Tea Party."
One night we received a phone call from a women's shelter. Our friend had escaped. We rejoiced for her safety.
Two days later, she went back to her husband.
As a teenager, this choice bewildered me. How could she be living a nightmare, make her escape, and then choose to return?
In time, I have grown to understand. The new world our friend faced in leaving behind her life was scary. In the end, she chose to live her nightmare as a codependent rather than face the unknown.
This story has been popping into my mind a lot these past few weeks as I listen to the media, neighbors, and friends discuss the Affordable Care Act. In spite of the approximately 50 million Americans who are uninsured, I am hearing folks express a lot of fear of the unknown. Some who are uninsured are defiantly choosing to pay the tax penalties rather than purchase a policy. Some are seething with anger that their tax dollars will be paying for someone else's health care. Others are petrified that if they move forward and enroll in the exchange, they will suddenly be without coverage.
As a nation, we are being asked to take the first steps to leaving a cruel relationship. We are collectively confronting a big unknown. Suddenly, all the homelessness, suffering, and bankruptcy offered by our current system seems preferable to confronting something new and different. It is as if we've become codependents to our abusive health care system.
As I write this, I am keenly aware that roughly half of my readers will agree with me. The other half will be disappointed that I should take this stance. I once spoke at a large sustainability conference where the director observed to me that, "Half your audience is from the Green Party and the other half is from the Tea Party."
In truth, if I may be so bold, I'd say that most of you are more accurately members of what I prefer to call the "Green Tea Party." You honor the earth and sincerely feel that the surest route to securing a good life in harmony with the planet involves personal accountability and a degree of self-reliance, as well as a commitment to neighbors and community. Some of you will be keen on the Affordable Care Act; others probably detest it.
For all of us "Green Tea" folks, there are certainly elements of the Act that are detestable. Many of us resent that we will be compelled by law to give our money to corporations whose profits seem to be determined, in large part, by their success at failing to deliver a needed service. We don't like being compelled to pay into a system that does not honor our belief that health care starts with nourishing the body and spirit; one that fails to acknowledge the proven successes of less expensive, less invasive alternative care services.
I agree with both points. We are faced with an imperfect plan to escape the current situation. But we have to start someplace. Remember: The U.S. Constitution has had 27 ratified amendments. Perhaps we need to think of the Affordable Care Act as a first draft.
Meanwhile, it offers three important protections for self-reliant "Green Tea Party" types:
1. Protecting your center of production.
Maybe it is true that you don't use the conventional health care system. If your back goes out, you use a chiropractor. If your kids have a cold, you use herbs and homeopathic remedies. But the conventional health care system is still responsible for broken bones, third degree burns, torn tendons, inguinal hernias, and bleeding wounds; all of which can happen easily to anyone who derives their livelihood from doing physical work (which describes most of you who read my writing).
If you're trying to be self-reliant, you stand to lose more than your home in the event of a medical catastrophe.
However, many farmers and radical homemakers typically invest to make their homes a sustainable center of production. Bob and I started our life in a cheap little cabin assessed at $56,000. Over the years we fixed up the floor, got solar panels, built a passive solar addition, laid a brick floor for thermal mass, and got ourselves a workhorse of a kitchen that would let me can vegetables, make soap, and fix lunch while at the same time homeschooling my kids. We did everything slowly, paying cash along the way. And then, suddenly, we got a letter and a big fat bill from our homeowners' insurance company.
It doesn't matter if you did it on the cheap, using salvaged scraps and your own sweat. Suddenly, that inexpensive little slice of heaven takes on astronomical value, and it exceeds the threshold of protection offered by homesteading laws (state laws that provide certain protections for homes during financial difficulties).
Thus, in the event of a medical catastrophe, you stand to lose more than your home. You stand to lose your center of production and the foundation of your livelihood. The Affordable Care Act will eliminate that risk that by allowing self-sufficient homemakers to afford insurance.
2. Freeing up income for true health care.
It was following this revelation in home ownership risks that Bob and I decided to purchase catastrophic health insurance. On our income, however, the cost was a tremendous burden. Our family grossed around $30,000 last year, with $13,000 in medical expenses. Out of that $13,000, $8,000 paid for the catastrophic policy and the deductible (which we would have to spend for insulin). The other $5,000 was stretched as far as possible to pay for dentists, eye doctors, and the alternative care that truly helped us to stay healthy.
Paying for insurance meant that we had to greatly reduce our use of alternative care. But the Affordable Care Act will change that. Next year, we will be able to greatly reduce the cost of conventional health insurance, which means we will finally be able to spend our health care dollars where we think they are most efficacious: on alternative health care.
3. Creating Room for Sustainable Economic Development.
I think if you asked most would-be members of any Green Tea Party to articulate the best way to restore the economy and heal the planet, they would agree that locally owned farms and businesses are at the heart of the solution.
Like an abusive husband, the existing health care system is familiar. That does not mean that it is safe.
In my opinion, the very best small business incubator we could possibly have is a national health plan (preferably single-payer...but that's not in the cards yet). I simply cannot count the number of stories I've heard about people who hate their jobs, who are being made sick by their work, but who continue to toil away in their cubicles, for fear of losing their health insurance.
My prediction is that, once we work out the kinks in this new plan, America will experience an entrepreneurial renaissance. People will have the security to strike out on their own. This is, after all, in our blood. Our country was not founded on corporate employment and steady paychecks. Our melting pot was built by entrepreneurs, risk takers, and independent and resourceful farmers. The Affordable Care Act gives us a chance to revisit that heritage.
I know change is frightening. There will be problems and glitches along the way, and as citizens, it will be our duty to fight for improvements. But the system we currently have is far worse. It is a true nightmare.
It is destructive to our homes, our families, our happiness. Like an abusive husband, just because it is familiar does not mean that it is safe. We must leave it behind, and face the unknown. This is the only way we can begin to heal and make a better life for ourselves.