Freelancers do indeed need health care. Shame on the spineless Democratic presidential candidates for failing to bring this up or call for universal health care, proper. I admit that I say this out of self-interest. Because I am now a freelancer. And I do not have health care. And I play Russian roulette every day hoping that I will not get sick or viciously maimed or otherwise be the target of expensive hospital bills.
“Well, you chose this life,” you might say. “You knew you had it coming.”
Maybe so. And I’m pretty damn committed to it too. That’s what passion will do for you. Because I am, in part, a crazy bastard. But does this mean that I, and other freelancers who are in the same boat, should be denied free or low-cost health care? Is it selfish for freelancers to expect health care as a basic right? Or do we just grin and bear it?
Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, I contracted one of the worst bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis that I have ever experienced in my life. There was no money to see a doctor and, being on deadline all the time and not having nearly the kind of high octane energy that I usually have when I am the pinnacle of health, I foolishly didn’t go to a free clinic. Because I didn’t have the time. I ended up losing my voice for almost a month — and yet I still continued to conduct interviews.
I coughed so hard that I actually threw out my back, and spent two days in more pain than I cared to divulge to my girlfriend, who was absolutely kind to me throughout — just one of the many reasons why I’m exceedingly lucky. But there came a time when I woke up at 3 AM in which the pain was so severe that I hollered at the top of my lungs and tears streamed down my face. If I moved an inch, my entire back would feel as if it had been stabbed repeatedly. I pretended that all was well, and I learned to live with the pain until it went away. And it was all because I was terrified of paying hundreds of dollars just to get some goddam antibiotics that would fix the problem. The pain was an assault to my very being, yet I was determined to carry on, as vigorously as possible, not being a corporate whore.
But I was a whore of an altogether different sort. A whore to patriotism and a severely flawed health care system in which the sick, the ill, and the wounded are expected to carry on with their business as if all is well. Because this is America, an ostensible nation of progress and democracy. And we really should shut up and tough it out. This is the American way.
If I was sick, then I damn well better get well. I damn well better have the constitution to pretend that all is fine when it isn’t. That this bronchitis or pneumonia was just a protracted cold. And how different is that really from the cavalier manner in which we look the other way and accept other problems that we believe will get resolved of their own accord?
My intention in 2008 was to vote for a Democrat. But if the Democrat that becomes a presidential candidate cannot get behind universal health care, s/he won’t have my vote. I’m voting for a candidate who has the conviction to guarantee health care for everyone. It may very well be a wasted vote (or maybe not in this blue state), but if I have to grin and bear it when I get sick, I sure as hell have no intention of grinning and bearing it when it comes to this much larger question. In a just universe, this would be one of the major issues of the 2008 election. But this is a nation that would rather pretend things aren’t as bad as they are.
I could vote for Hillary Clinton, who gives you the illusion of choice, or Barack Obama, who promises that no American will be turned away. (Well, you may not be turned away. But you’ll still foot the bill.) Clinton and Obama are big on “lowering costs,” but they haven’t bothered to toss out any concrete figures. (The only thing we get from Obama is that “the typical consumer would save $2,500 a year.” But that’s more like promising voters that they will continue to carry on the long American tradition of collecting coupons from the Sunday newspaper. Big whoop. I’ll pay $5,000 for open heart surgery instead of $7,500. Thank you for shopping at Target Greatland. (The Edwards plan is more interesting, in that it boldly pits a public health care industry against a private one. But it is likewise reticent about costs.)
But here’s what I want to know. What’s the bottom line? How much will each of these health plans cost me if I want to sign up? And can these plans seriously curtail the crazy costs that come from even an ambulance ride? These are the questions that every uninsured American is asking. These are the questions that keeps someone uninsured. The three major Democratic candidates simply will not, or maybe just cannot, recognize the worries and concerns of working-class America.
So, in the meantime, grin and bear it, America. You may not have health care anytime soon, but this is the greatest country on earth.