Dear Congressional Republicans,
Hi there. I'm a guy with a gaping hole in his side--not even slightly kidding about that. You're killing me over here.
Obamacare will literally change my life, improving my lot, along with that of millions of other people like me. And when you
threaten to shut down the government in hopes of preventing this life-saving, money-saving program from ever coming to fruition, well, I kinda take that personally.
Credential Check, or Who The Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?
Don't you dare lecture me about the value of hard work and sacrifice and aspiring to be your best. I know it, I've lived it.
About that hole in my side. I have an ileostomy. Translation: my colon was surgically removed and now I poop into a bag. It's not something I particularly wanted to say here on my blog--or to anyone, anywhere. Hello, I'm Doug, I poop into a bag. What's your name?
But you, Congressional Republicans (and with a special shout-out to Senator Cruz), seem pathologically incapable of understanding that there's a vast world of people and experiences beyond your own. So here you go; here's mine. I’m thirty-two years old, healthy, active, clean-living ... and I poop into a bag. Health care isn't some abstract thing for me. It's a weight that I carry every day--for years, a weight of constant, debilitating pain and anxiety, and now a literal weight, in the form of the poop-bag attached to the hole in my side.
I have the bag because I have Crohn's Disease. I was diagnosed when I was twelve years old. It's an autoimmune disorder for which both cause and cure are unknown. It causes inflammation of the colon, resulting in symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, and general severe fucking pain.
I persevered. I'm not one to back down from a challenge. And I happened to be fortunate enough to have fantastic health insurance and, therefore, world-class medical care. Got a college degree (with honors, yo) then worked in a quintessentially manic corporate job. Long hours, contagious stress, never-ending flare-ups; life was an actual shitshow, which made it achingly difficult to find the time and energy to pursue my real dream, to be a writer. The corporate gig was largely about getting health care, a perk that doesn’t come with freelance writing and is something that I absolutely can’t live without.
Cue the montage of hospital stays and struggling just to pretend to have a normal life. One day, my colorectal surgeon finally told me, softly but firmly, It’s time. We need to remove your colon.
Nine months later, healthy for the first time in my adult life, I flew to Europe, amazed and amused that I'd made it here. The next year, I went back. And I wrote about it--the tale of my travels, Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day, was published last year by Perigee Books/Penguin.
If you want a tale of bootstrapping and perseverance, there it is.
If you want a tale of bootstrapping and perseverance, there it is.
"Yeah, so? It all worked out for you--quit complaining."
I'm one of the lucky ones. I poop into a bag and life is as good as it gets. Not only am I not dead (yay!) but now, after years of fatigue and frustration, I'm finally able to live. To pursue my dreams--a result of hard work, aspiration, and, yes, the helping hand of health care and health insurance. I desperately needed that assist to allow my own initiative to reach full bloom, my own American Dream to become American Reality.
I write. I travel. Squat toilets are actually easier now. Airport security lines ... not so much, given this bulge. I even got married last month. As I said, I'm so lucky.
But you know what? There are millions of people out there who, through no fault of their own, don't have adequate health care, don't have insurance, and are watching their hopes, dreams, and aspirations wither and even die. I've been in emergency rooms at 3am, waiting in line behind people like the burly carpenter who had fallen off a roof, breaking his shoulder and self-treating with Tylenol and a pillow case sling because he didn't have insurance, but finally trudging down to the ER two weeks later because the pain was just unbearable. Actual true story.
FUN FACT: A 2009 Harvard Medical School study (PDF link) found that nearly 45,000 Americans die every year due to lack of insurance. They’re also way less likely to get proper preventative treatment or care for chronic illnesses.
FUN FACT: People dying because of lack of insurance is empirically NOT ACCEPTABLE.
FUN FACT: The Affordable Care Act wasn't written for you, Congressional Republicans. Not even, as you seem to think, to serve as a sort of piñata for you to bash for personal entertainment. It was written for the millions of Americans who desperately need it, whose lives are--to use a technical term--totally effed by their lack of access to effective, affordable care.
Look. Just because YOU'VE got it good doesn't mean other people do. Good lord, I can't believe I have to spell this out. If the only people you care about are the ones who are already successful, then you’re a pretty horrible excuse for a public servant. The public is more than just the people who look like you, sound like you, live like you, think like you, or have the same privileges and benefits that you do.
"I've got mine, so screw the rest of you" is the very definition of arrogant assholery, which is no way to run a country.
Millions of Americans out there are working their asses off--in some cases, like mine, LITERALLY WORKING THEIR ASSES OFF--and just need a little helping hand to survive and to thrive and to contribute meaningful things to society. To live the American Dream, y'all. Without health care, I'd be a net drain on society; with it, well, I like to think I'm giving something back, and not just in the form of cranky blog posts.
I've got mine. And I think it's only right that other people get the freedom and opportunity to achieve theirs.
That’s what makes me so heartbroken, so angry, so depressed, Congressional Republicans. You're rooting against opportunity, against freedom, against the ideal that hard work should pay off. Against America.
How dare you?
Now, I know what rebuttals you’re itching to yell out. I've heard your talking points.
Okay, fine, let's revisit a few of them.
You say: "Gosh, it's too bad that you're sick, but no one's entitled to health care."
Sure. Or clean water. Or corporate tax breaks. But we've got those. And we're all in for roads, even the ones we don't drive on ourselves. Schools, even if we don't have kids. National security, even if we think the defense budget is bloated far beyond need. (Hey, you know what kills more people than terrorism? Cancer. Heart disease. Etc.) We're all in on these things because we value success--we want our society, our team, our family to prosper.
Now, I happen to think that even though we can't save everyone from all the hardships of life, we have a moral imperative to do what we can to help people not suffer untold pain--physical, emotional, financial. If you were walking next to me and tripped and fell, I’d help you up.
You wanna call yourself pro-life, pro-family? Support the already-living and their right to live.
But even if you don't agree with me on that--because empathy is for wimps; because you've got yours, for now, and that's all that matters; because, Ayn Rand, y'all--even if you have no moral qualms about letting people suffer when you could damn well do something about it, you should at the very least understand that healthier people are more productive people. More efficient. Better at turning the gears of capitalism.
FUN FACT: A healthy, productive society requires healthy, productive people.
You say: "We do think people should have health care! But private industry and charities should take care of that--and they totally would, if government just got out of the way!"
Uh-huh. Wouldn't that be convenient? If we all took care of each other out of the pure goodness of our squeaky-clean hearts? Wouldn't that be effing swell? If all corporations were altruistic and paid living wages and extended full benefits to their workers and never sold shoddy or toxic products, etc. etc.?
In case you hadn’t noticed, that doesn’t happen. It won’t happen, ever, not in any meaningful, across-the-board sort of way. Stop being the naive idealist that you always accuse liberals of being. Seriously. Snap the hell out of it. Get a fucking grip. Pay attention to the real world.
Also, if businesses do offer health care benefits, then they must seem some reason for doing so, right? Like productivity and such? So … if it’s good enough for businesses large and small, isn’t it good enough for the country?
You say: "People shouldn't be forced to pay for something they don't need."
First of all, we're already paying into Medicare and Social Security--it's called investing in our future.
Second and more important, today’s invincibles are tomorrow’s invalids. Unavoidable fact of life, and it happens way sooner than you think--it could literally be tomorrow. Car crashes don’t care if you’re young or old or the most wholesome, healthy person on the planet. Cancer ain’t actually all that picky, either.
And neither are chronic illnesses that give you a gaping hole in your side.
FUN FACT: The thing about health is, one day you have it and then one day--no matter your age or your lifestyle--you don't. Scientific studies have shown that one hundred percent of people get sick, one hundred percent of people get injured, and one hundred percent of people die.
For real, Congressional Republicans, you're rooting against America. You're rooting against personal responsibility by effectively encouraging people not to go to the doctor, not to take care of themselves. And you're rooting against fiscal sanity--because when the uninsured wind up in the ER, as they inevitably will, someone's got to pay the bills.
You say: "Government red tape! Bureaucratic bean-counters! Uncle Sam getting all up in your business!"
Ah, right, because HMOs never ever made things rough for patients--miles of paperwork, denying claims for no apparent reason, bullying patients in their hospital rooms, telling them they can't get treatment until they dig out their checkbooks and pay bills that, in fact, they already paid.
Wait. All of that already happens. And that’s why, for example, Accretive is now banned from Minnesota for "deceiving patients, harassing them for money in emergency rooms and mishandling patient data." Corporate bean-counters are already the masters at creating health care mayhem. They’re driven by profits, not by health outcomes. I’m not saying that the Affordable Care Act won’t have some ridiculous regulations and there won’t be stories that you can cherry-pick to argue that it’s a flawed system. All I’m saying is …
FUN FACT: There is no perfect health care system. But Obamacare is way, way better than the Rube Goldberg-meets-Kafka system we have now, promising to be more effective, more efficient, and more inclusive. Egalitarianism, it’s the American way.
Let's fix the gaping hole in the American Dream.
For me, for the self-interest of my own gaping hole, this is the biggest thing: the preexisting conditions clause is gone.
Right now, I still have a day job (not the one that nearly killed me, a much more sane one). I adore my coworkers, I enjoy the work, I put in the effort. But the honest truth is that I'd rather be writing full-time--lifelong dream, see above. The primary reason I still work in an office is that it's the only way for a guy with a gaping hole in his side to get health insurance.
As mentioned, I got married last month. So I have a couple of options when I finally make the jump to full-time freelancing, which I hope to do soon: I can join my wife's plan or I can sign up for MNsure, the Minnesota health insurance exchange program. We've already looked at the costs for each--the full-fledged, bells-and-whistles plans, because that's what I need--and they're pretty much the same.
But if I weren't married, or if my wife didn't have a great job--or if, in the future, she loses her job or decides to go and start her own business--there would still be an option, MNsure. I could still chase my dream of being a full-time writer. That’s a really, really nice thing to know.
And no matter what, once I start to chase my dream (with the opportunity to succeed or fail on my own terms), that will free up my current job for someone else for whom that job is a lifelong dream, someone who is perhaps working at Starbuck's full time--because, again, health insurance--while struggling to get a job in his or her own desired field ... and so on.
FUN FACT: Universal health care encourages entrepreneurism. I’m pretty sure you don’t hate entrepreneurs, although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Look, Congressional Republicans. You talk a lot about freedom.
Obamacare will give people like me the freedom to succeed, to NOT be stuck in bed or stuck in a placeholder job, but to go out there and manifest our own destiny. Even if I don’t use MNsure or any other exchange, it’s so reassuring to know that they're there. It lets me focus on the business of being me, of taking care of myself and striving to be awesome, knowing that I have options.
FUN FACT: Health care helps us recover when we're knocked down. Health insurance helps us not only when we’re sick but when we’re not. It provides peace of mind, allowing us to take the necessary, calculated risks to better our lot and live life to the fullest--it provides the reassurance that if we do get sick, all will not be lost.
Obamacare is not just a safety net--it's also a springboard.
If a person has a broken leg, you don’t fix the problem by killing him.
If you think Obamacare is imperfect, that’s fine. But then, for the sake of all that is good and holy--for puppies and bald eagles and purple mountains majesty and Mom and apple pie--work to make it better, not to destroy it for good. You and I both know that this is the one and only shot at having universal health care in our lifetimes. So don’t blow it up, make it work. Make. It. Fucking. WORK.
That thing you’re doing right now, to try to defund and destroy it every way you can? You’re not just tossing the baby out with the bathwater, you’re tossing the baby over the cliff while telling its mother that your intentions were good and, anyway, babies are a drag on the economy, and that baby had the preexisting condition of being so conveniently throwable.
Congressional Republicans. Hear me out. Some topics are too important for pithiness. Finishing up right now.
If I were made of money, like you and your friends are, here's the series of ads I'd run:
We open on REAL LIFE, EVERYDAY AMERICANS describing their situations, looking directly into the camera. No props, no cheesy montages, just straightforward storytelling.
AD 1: BLUE-COLLAR, MIDDLE AGED SOUTHERN WOMAN: I'm a factory worker. I thought I was invincible, until I spun out on my motorcycle ...
AD 2: MIDWESTERN FARMER IN HIS SIXTIES: I'm a farmer, and my wife suddenly started feeling sick, no doctors could diagnose her ...
AD 3: DASHINGLY BOOKISH YOUNG MAN: I'm a writer with Crohn's disease ...
CASTING NOTE: Hit all the archetypes, all the ages, races, economic statuses, demographics. Get a soccer mom, a fire fighter, an investment banker. Because these stories are everywhere, affecting everyone.
THE STORIES TAKE A TURN, THE TENSION AND HEARTBREAK RISE
I thought I was going to die ...
I thought we would go broke ...
I thought I'd never be able to chase my dream because of my preexisting condition ...
THE MOOD SHIFTS. HERE COMES THE HAPPY ENDING. NOW WE SEE EACH PERSON DOING THEIR THING--THE FARMER IN THE FIELD, THE TRAVEL WRITER TRAVELING, ETC. EACH PERSON CITES A SPECIFIC PIECE OF OBAMACARE THAT HELPED THEM
I'm healing now, thanks to ...
She found a specialist and is getting treatment, and we didn't have to sell the farm, thanks to ...
Life is good. So, so good. Because I have access to health care options, thanks to …
THE MUSIC SOARS. THE MOOD LIFTS. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, MAKING A BETTER SOCIETY, A MORE SECURE, MORE PRODUCTIVE, MORE FUCKING AWESOME NATION. USA! USA! USA!
FADE TO TAG LINE:
This American Dream brought to you by the Affordable Care Act.
Hell yeah it is.
Doug Mack, a hard-working Midwesterner with a gaping hole in his side.
NOTE: A few people have asked if it’s okay to share this far and wide. YES! PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, Pony Express, singing telegrams delivered to Senator Cruz, emails/tweets to your elected officials or health care writers … All of that. Go for it. I’d be so grateful. That’s why I wrote this: to share my story and put an actual, specific face (and gaping hole) on the issue of health care reform.