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HAGER: America needs to get a grip when it comes to health care

• Jun 29, 2017 at 12:00 AM

This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate will not be able to vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act until after the July 4 holiday. Little wonder, with a massive loss of support from their own party and in the face of vocal opposition from patient advocacy groups and medical organizations.

According to the report released from the Congressional Budget Office, more than 22 million more people would not have health care in 10 years, and many people buying insurance on the individual marketplace would have higher costs for less coverage.

I read an interesting article in my research for this column, and though it was an opinion against any sort of single-payer or universal system, the reasoning was solid. Basically, the writer said that Americans won’t pay for other people to have something they already have, that Americans will not be saddled with higher taxes for the benefit of others. He referred to Americans as “rugged individualists,” and was sort of proud of that.

Rugged individualism treats health care as a commodity, as a profit center, and I believe that is one reason why the cost of health care in America outpaces every other nation. Our costs for prescription drugs is just one example of this.

Recently, I received an injection of a drug called Toradol for a back issue. The cost on the invoice billed to my insurer was $84 for the 15-mg injection and another $34 for the injection itself. A quick search on a Canadian pharmaceutical site showed that I could buy 60 10-mg pills for about $43. Advair is priced at about $205 on the Canadian site, while in America it apparently costs closer to $350, depending on your pharmacy.

It was $102 for me to visit with a physician’s assistant for about 15 minutes — a pretty darn good rate of income. The crazy (to me) part of the whole ordeal is that I only paid $25. Which is great, but I also pay premiums twice a month for the insurance that paid the rest of that bill, and only one of those twice-monthly payments would have covered the visit.

Health care has become a money-making machine and the rest of us are paying for that. I’d rather throw money into a system that covered everyone than make some executive very wealthy.

Rugged individualism leads to sense of entitlement. We don’t deserve peace, safety, health care or well-being any more than any other person, but we often act like we do. As we seek to ban refugees from certain countries, we show that we value our own lives more. As we support policies like the repeal of Obamacare, we voice that we are aligned with a thinking that leaves people out.

Even now, I.C.E. is raiding in Holland, splitting up families, sending U.S.-born kids into the foster system and driving a whole group of people to go underground. Don’t think for a second that this is liberal propaganda, because it isn’t. Did you know that there are groups delivering groceries to these families because they are too afraid to leave their homes? Our rugged individualism reassures us that this is OK, because those folks aren’t legal, never mind that they’ve built a life over several decades here, contributed to the economy and society here.

I’m not proud of that sort of rugged individualism. I’m not proud of a place that leaves people out or crushes them down in a daily struggle to just live. In 2016, Mlive.com reported that the poverty rate in Ottawa County is almost 10 percent, more than 6,000 children living in a way that does not meet basic needs while multimillion dollar homes are built on Lake Michigan and Spring Lake, homes that will be occupied only a few times a year. If that is rugged individualism, if that is capitalism, I firmly reject it.

Republicans most likely will not get the votes they need to even bring the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the Senate, the margins are reported as too close, with many Republican senators being unhappy with the current bill. And that’s a good thing. As much as I would love those extra dollars in my paycheck, I know that if something terrible were to happen to one of my family members, those expenses would be covered, and many people don’t know that, they don’t have that sort of confidence.

Cutting 22 million folks out of the American necessity of health care isn’t rugged individualism, it is just mean.

America needs to get a grip on health care, needs to get a grip on skyrocketing drug costs, needs to get a grip on realizing that the health and well-being of our neighbors affects us all. Like it or not, we are yoked together in this common life; if you don’t believe me, check into how your state-mandated car insurance works sometime, learn about what a risk pool is and how insurance companies sustain themselves in regard to underwriting policies and loss ratios, because insurance is something I know and do every day in my not-column-writing time; but do look into it, then come and tell us about your own rugged individualism.

We rely on each other in ways we don’t even realize, and we must take care of each other. Health care is just one battle, and one that should not be seen as a commodity, but as a basic human right.

— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist

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