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Confusing airfare with healthcare

Posted: November 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Congressman Buck McKeon recently sent an “E-News Update” to constituents, unsuccessfully comparing the Affordable Care Act standards to an imaginary government-run airline requiring all air passengers to travel first class. It was a horrendously flawed analogy, exposing McKeon’s insensitivities to the devastating, bankrupting problems of “old way” medical coverage. It was one more round of Republican weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth without the slightest effort to suggest anything constructive.

The gist of Buck’s moaning missive is that the ACA is like a government controlled air travel world that dictates because not everyone can afford to fly, all flyers therefore must fly first class. Formally cheap direct flights to San Francisco no longer exist and now require payment for a first class stop to Paris to get there. No matter what you want, government travel mandates first class, ‘round the world, for each and every trip. Buck’s e-mail cynically suggests, “Since you really can fly Southwest on the cheap to wherever you want to go in real life, Why can’t you do the same with your own medical insurance?”

Such talk initially sounds logical to our free market ears. “If I’m a young buck, why should I be mandated to coverage that I won’t use this year, subsidizing single moms and unborn children and rickety old folks that will?”

“Why must I join an insurance pool with folks with riskier health than me when I’m not likely to get sick anytime soon?” “What about ME!” is the message Buck means to convey.

But comparing illness with airlines is apples to oranges. We fly according to our timing and choice, if we chose to fly at all. Illness happens when it will, and much of it very much against our will.

Health insurance is different from buying air flights or cars or TVs. To great extent we don’t choose our illnesses, we don’t control our aging, our females bear higher medical costs than men during reproductive years -- and pity the millions of babies who have no say as to the quality of their medical care when they’re forced into the light of day wherever their birth may happen!

Ultimately, we all get old and frail die, regardless of personal choice. The question is only timing. You will get sick.

It will be expensive. We all exist in a mass, communal march through stages of vitality, to illness, to the grave. This “circle of life” is the one thing that still binds all Americans together as eventual equals.

Properly used, insurance spreads risk among our population, insulating individuals from severe acute or chronic losses. All pay some over time so none individually are subject to ruinous acute hits. Proper health insurance minimizes the losses of life’s shocks and protects common society from collective individual catastrophe.

Buck would allow insurance purchasers to “arbitrage” insurance costs by deleting coverage when they’re healthy, forcing others to pay without shared benefit at their greatest time of need. In short, Buck thinks we should be able to ditch our bill until we get ill. But paying little or none today while attempting to “slip in under the wire” later is exactly as it sounds – cheating -- getting something for nothing by gaming the system. Buck does not account that we all will get sick, and all our bills must all be paid by someone, sometime. And that means we must all share the cost of insurance through the full duration of our lives in good and bad times - or face the costs alone when we do get sick, potentially paying hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars individually.

In health, nature’s lottery spins and we largely get what life dishes out. The ACA gets us all in a pool, swimming in improved security together in this shared human health condition.It mandates full levels of care now because virtually all of us will need full care sometime in our lives. Yes, the same Affordable Care Act retains great opportunity for improvement. Yet there is enough right about the law that government must make this important public policy work right. Republicans like Buck must stop blockading and start building if they are to truly represent the interests of the people.

If Buck feels that good national health policy is to stiff recovering moms with the bills, abandon babies without coverage or care, or push Grandma off the cliff, leaving those most vulnerable to take shock losses in times of need, well then that’s a pretty good measure of morals and privilege his party portrays.

Meanwhile, outside the health insurance propaganda maelstrom, Americans willingly pool resources for common public safety, education, fire prevention, parks, prisons, social security and international security. Ask yourself this:

Is the risk to your body from disease much different from that of violence, accident, ignorance, or invasion by an outside force? In the ACA, we align our best national values as a community of Americans working together for Americans.

When it comes to our health, very few Americans can actually afford to fly alone. The ACA gets us all back on the jet together - while Buck, himself protected by his publically paid Cadillac health plan, shoves you out at 40,000 feet without a healthcare parachute to slow your fall. Shouts Buck, as you tumble fast below, “Your kind never belonged on our plane – don’t you know that?”

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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