The Unspoken Taboo of Medicare For All
The fanatical centrist and conservative resistance to Medicare For All is evidence that employers are terrified that we might actually stop sacrificing our lives for their work.
I work while sitting down, all day. Sometimes I get up for walking breaks. I turn around in my cubicle to look far away out the window for my eyes. I get up out of my seat from time to time and squat to relieve back pain. My ears ring from the headset that I wear to talk with customers. And I know that in some sense, my job is killing me but slowly.
I’ve talked to some of the kids in my office. They’re in their twenties and thirties and already, they report some back pain. Some have already had surgeries to repair their backs. Some of them have “standing desks” that allow them to work while standing up. I think that the ultimate evolution of the office workspace will include zero gravity chairs much like the kind used in movies like The Matrix and Surrogates. I think that’s where we’re headed.
I used to work in sheet metal. I fabricated and installed ductwork for air conditioning systems, and it was hard work. I lost a sliver of a finger while daydreaming and working with a metal cutting machine at the same time. I can recall the close calls and the crazy antics of some of my co-workers, and how one person I knew said that the mortality rate of sheet metal workers was higher than the LAPD.
In nearly every industry, workers are being asked to sacrifice a third of their day to an employer. They are subjected to a wide range of risks that, if a business owner is lucky, will happily avoid on the way to the bank. And herein lies the problem that business owners seem unwilling to talk about. That employees should be able to afford to take care of themselves and enjoy their lives, too. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?
This is why I’m a fan of Medicare For All. What I see in Medicare For All (M4A) is a unified and transparent system for health care management of an entire country. M4A, if properly implemented, will act as a giant sieve of empirical data to show what works and what doesn’t. A massive searchable, anonymized database of procedures and results, would allow our country to compare costs to benefits for any procedure or therapy.
I know I’m dreaming a bit here, but I think that M4A would allow people the opportunity to actually get to know their doctors and vice versa. With intimacy comes knowledge and with knowledge comes power. In this case, that knowledge can help people to take care of themselves. With M4A, people can choose their doctors. I can’t choose my doctor with my private plan. I get a list on the insurer’s website of approved doctors. But I can imagine the benefit of actually letting a doctor get to know me.
If I have a persistent problem, and there are no co-pays or deductibles, then I can visit or consult with my doctor for as long and as often as it will take to solve the problem. For example, I’ve had a persistent cough since about 2003. I’ve visited many doctors and none could really figure out what the problem was, but the last one figured it out. And now I’m working my way to a solution, something that I can live with. I might have figured that out faster if I had found a good doctor and let him know me.
Part of the human condition is painful and chronic diseases that resist all but the most concerted effort to resolve. There is almost no way to avoid it.
Our current health care system, with deductibles and co-pays is designed to discourage the use of it. A 10 or 20% co-pay assumes that people will visit doctors just for the kicks. Like I really want a triple-bypass surgery for free. It is a system that is based on puritanical ideas and concepts, primarily, that we must suffer for our keep.
I’m just not that into suffering. And I don’t think many of you are, either. But we submit ourselves to a system that actively encourages our suffering, as if somehow, there is a direct correlation between suffering and prosperity. But I’ve never seen that correlation.
I know people who are rich. Yes, they worked hard. They suffered, and they did prosper. But it seems to me that it’s rather difficult to enjoy prosperity when we are suffering in illness. Health is the greatest wealth that any person could ever hope to acquire. Children prove this to us every day.
So it seems ironic that the people who make the public policy, are so resistant to M4A. They resist investing in our health, and I have to wonder why. The people who have the greatest influence on our public policy, also happen to be the wealthiest individuals and organizations. They believe that they became wealthy through their own hard work, when the reality is, no one acquires wealth alone. And if you’re the last man on earth, and everyone else is dead, a pile of money has no value.
Here is another quandary for business owners who insist on a “business-friendly” environment. Seriously, American policymakers have gone over the fence and several hills into the sunset like Daffy Duck, just to make America business-friendly. The problem with this thinking springs from Supply-Side Economics, neoliberal economics, the kind that President Ronald Reagan used to promote. Give businesses the room to do their jobs, and everything will be fine.
But the extreme wealth inequality we have now is evidence that we’ve put the cart before the horse. If your customers are living with stagnant wages, and the cost of commodities keeps rising, they won’t have money for the shiny things your business builds to sell. If your customers have to choose between eating and going to the doctor, they will choose to eat first. And if you have no customers, you have no business.
I am reminded here of a recent discussion about a population collapse that appears to be underway. All of the developed countries are seeing their childbirth rates declining, including the United States. It is estimated that Japan will lose 50% of its population by 2100. The United States has the lowest birthrate on record right here, right now. Even China is not having enough babies to sustain their population.
Some weeks ago, I found two very interesting articles, both about Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, the world’s largest shopping site. First, we have this article from Quartz, “Jack Ma and Elon Musk are pretty worried about a looming population collapse”, where Jack Ma talks about the population collapse in China:
“Now in China today, we have 18 [million] new babies born every year, which is not enough. We need to have much more than that,” said Ma. “I think the best resources of the human beings, or the best resources on the earth are not the coal, not the oil, not the electricity, it’s the human brains.” (China had 15 million babies in 2018, the lowest number in half a century.)
This is from a man who promotes the 996 work culture, work from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. In this CNN article, “Jack Ma endorses China’s controversial 12 hours a day, 6 days a week work culture”, Jack Ma said:
“If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” Ma said in a blog post Sunday on Chinese social media site Weibo. “If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture,” he added.
The story goes on:
“Did you ever think about the elderly at home who need care, (or) the children who need company?” wrote a Weibo user with the online moniker stupidcan123, in response to Ma’s post. “If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children” because of a lack of time, they added. (emphasis mine)
And if no one will have children, there won’t be very many customers to buy your products, Mr. CEO. And if no one has the time or the money to take care of themselves, then don’t expect anyone to show up in your shop. Instead, expect to see a few million people milling around on the steps of Capitol Hill. Or a few thousand at the local statehouse.
If we don’t have the time and the money to go to the doctor, see a therapist, a counselor, or a fitness coach, then we’ve defeated the purpose of work. If we work to achieve our goals, and all we do is work, we might never actually get to know who we really are.
Medicare For All can help to fix the problem of living to work and will allow us greater choices in how we use our time. Time is all we have left when we don’t have our health. Medicare For All gives us the time and the money we need to get to know ourselves, our bodies and the people we hold so dear in our lives. That is the promise I see in M4A.