Summer's Evening on the Potomac

This weekend we were having one of those glorious, adults-only dinners, Mr. Litbrit and I, and somehow the conversation wandered into the area of health care—specifically, the outrageous cost thereof and the increasingly paltry benefits provided to those who can even afford it in the first place.

litbrit: They don’t cover this; they don’t cover that….

Mr. L: Yeah, so what else is new?

litbrit: They tell your doctor what medicines he should be prescribing based on what deals they’ve made with pharmaceutical companies! And if you want the actual medicine your doctor prescribed, you have to pay for it out of pocket. And then they have the nerve to send us bills for massive bloody premiums that keep going up...

Mr. L: And your point, my darling?

litbrit (bristling): My point is that this is bullshit. This is the United States. The only developed country in the world in which the government doesn’t provide its citizens with basic health care. I mean, you’re completely on your own here. And a lot of the time, ordinary, working families can’t afford insurance, so their kids don’t get shots, or they don’t get taken to the doctor ever, and then they get desperately sick and have to go to the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital, who by law must treat the child regardless…and the cost of that gets passed on to those who are insured, and use the ER or hospital, in terms of the ridiculous charges for anything and everything that get billed to the insurance companies. You know, the famous forty-dollar aspirin thing…they have to make the difference up somewhere, or they can’t keep their doors open. And of course, the insurance companies, in turn, charge higher rates to families like ours, who in turn are less and less able to afford insurance at all.

Mr. L: All true. And?

I’ll leave our dinner conversation for a moment. Let’s go back in time a little…all the way back to 2004. During his campaign, President Bush made all manner of promises to America. He led his supporters to believe that small businesses would realize a reduction in the cost of providing health care coverage for their employees. At a September ’04 rally in Wisconsin, he said:

In a time of change we must do more to make sure quality health care is available and affordable. More than one-half of the uninsured in America are small business employees. Many small businesses are having trouble affording health care. In a new term, we must allow small firms to join together to purchase insurance at the discounts big companies get.

Last night I proposed new steps to encourage small businesses and employees and low-income Americans to set up health savings accounts.


What I'm telling you is, there are ways to hold down costs, ways to help small businesses, ways to make sure people have got insurance. And we have got a plan to do that.

And we have got a plan to do that. Ah yes, the man with a plan. Again. Don’t you love it? Hey, how’s that plan working for you, America?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who base their data on figures supplied directly by the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans continued to rise in 2004. Here are a few more unsettling figures (bolds mine):

…The percentage of working adults (18 to 64) who were uninsured climbed from 18.6 percent in 2003 to 19.0 percent in 2004 (an increase of over 750,000 people in 2004).


Lack of insurance was much more common among those with low incomes. Some 24.3 percent of people with incomes below $25,000 were uninsured, almost triple the rate of 8.4 percent for people with incomes over $75,000


Private employment-based health insurance coverage fell again in 2004, for the fifth successive year. The share of Americans with job-based coverage stood at 59.8 percent in 2004, significantly less than the share in 2003 (60.4 percent) and in 2000 (63.6 percent). Over the years, the primary cause for the decline in job-based health insurance has been escalating health care costs, which has led some employers to stop offering coverage and many others to shift more costs to employees, making it more difficult for low- and moderate-income workers to afford insurance for themselves or their families.

We’re all paying taxes. Oh yes. Meanwhile, we’re pounding our chests about what a great country this is—and in many ways, America is great, in all senses of the adjective. But people can’t afford to go to the doctor, military veterans are seeing their benefits slashed, fixed-income seniors—like the lady in front of me at the Target pharmacy last week—have to pay $75 out-of-pocket for crucial antibiotics not covered by Medicare or risk keeling over from a bronchial infection…none of this strikes me as particularly great.

Back to our dinner conversation:

litbrit: What it amounts to is taxation without representation. I mean, what is more basic, more vital to human health, than being able to get the medicine you need when you’re sick? That elderly lady at the pharmacy peeling dollar bill after dollar bill off a stack she probably had hidden away for emergencies, and now she's down to's so fucking wrong.

Mr. L: Taxation without representation. Interesting.

litbrit: Didn’t you guys protest that, once? In Boston? Our King was charging big taxes on tea, but the colonies weren’t getting anything out of the deal—no sugar, no love, no nothing….

Mr. L: It was called the Boston Tea Party. Some ballsy guys climbed onto the cargo ships and dumped all the tea they were carrying into Boston Harbor. Tons and tons of it. It made a pretty strong statement, since everyone including me remembers it hundreds of years later.

litbrit: We need a to do something similar today, you know, to protest the fact that we’re paying taxes yet we’re still the only developed nation without universal health care. It’s ridiculous. We need a health care tea party. Yes! We need to think up a symbolic thing that people could throw into the Potomac, say, in protest of this travesty. Like tons of syringes, maybe.

Mr. L: What, make DC look like Jersey?

litbrit: What could we throw…hmmmm…I wonder what would say, “This administration doesn’t represent ordinary Americans and won’t address our health care crisis, so take this!"

Mr. L: I’ve got it! Douchebags! We organize the Washington Douchebag Party of 2006, get thousands of Americans to throw the things into the Potomac. A media event! Think about it: a douchebag is the perfect symbol because it’s a health-care item, and it also represents the people who should have dealt with this crisis long ago.

litbrit: I love it.

(Cross-posted Chez litbrit with that nice, fresh feeling...)

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