Slowly and gently-- the verbal equivalent of a bomb detonator with a mysterious brown package--the receptionist explained to me my new co-pay and deductible. My husband’s new job meant we could finally make those long-delayed doctor’s appointments. My three-year-old son got his overdue shots, and was sporting fancy Spongebob band-aids to prove it. “This insurance has a very large co-pay,” she said, “ninety-eight dollars.”
“For both of us combined?” I said, referring to my little guy holding my hand.
“No,” she said. “For each of you.”
As I drove home, past the homeless people begging on every corner (San Diego’s temperate climate means plenty of homeless people out panhandling), I knew I shouldn’t feel self-pity. I wasn’t on the street, begging and fighting to keep my sanity. I wasn’t holding a cup and a sign like a tragic John Steinbeck character.
I was just never going to see a doctor again.
When we speak of economic policies and statistics, it is easy to forget the human element behind them. Easy to forget that what is spoken about as numbers, data, indices, and so forth, is ultimately human pain. Harvard Medical School estimates 45,000 unnecessary deaths a year due to lack of health care insurance. That’s more than one 9/11 per month. Gandhi’s words--“Poverty is the worst form of violence”--resonate.
I remember when we bought our tiny, one-bedroom condo in San Diego. We did everything “right.” If we were going to err, it would be on the side of frugality.
Then, the ink on the escrow papers barely dry, the declining housing market fell straight off a cliff. Overnight, the savings we put down on the home was gone. We were both laid off as our companies downsized. And we discovered that my new pot belly was not a result of stress-eating but rather, the little dude who was growing in there.
After our son was born, I swore he’d not grow up as I did. Thuggish creditors calling at all hours, the electricity turned off. My father dying at 48, a matter of months after confiding in my teenage self after I asked him what he wanted out of life: “I’m tired. I want to go to sleep. That’s all I want. I want to sleep.”
I swore. Somehow, my son won’t grow up that way.
In an effort to keep our home, I wrote to all my Representatives at various levels of local and federal government, and got form letters in response. Over half our Representatives in Congress are millionaires and the average net worth of our Senators is 2.5 million dollars. They don’t know. Ann Romney, worth an estimated 250 million dollars, recently told ABC News: “I don’t even consider myself wealthy.” They have no idea. Let them eat cake.
Years ago, when all this started, I attended a huge job fair at the San Diego Convention Center. It was in the late August heat; I wore my only suit, which was black and made of wool. Overwhelmingly the fair was young kids fresh out of college, crowding at the only booths that were actually hiring: commission-only sales or predatory pyramid schemes that figured out how to circumvent the law. Demoralized, hair matted down with sweat and the look of a blotchy, red lunatic, I sat down and called my husband, and cried a bit into the phone.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man who had to be at least sixty. He was in an awful, dated suit that I guarantee was older than most of the people there. And I mean, decades older. He carried a briefcase and the weary demeanor of a job supplicant—er, I mean applicant. He too had taken a moment to withdraw from the fray.
And then he looked at me and offered a gentle, “chin up” kind of smile. Through my tears I scowled at him. What the f*** are you looking at?
If I could have any moment in my life back, it just might be that.
It shouldn’t be this way. We should be able to retire with dignity. That weary soul of a man shouldn’t have to compete with kids for commission-only sales jobs. If we have children, we should be able to raise them in security if we are able and willing to work. It shouldn’t be this way.