A plea from the uninsured…

Today, in Washington, D.C., on the floor of the chamber of the U.S. House, your elected officials will tilt on the topic of health care. This is being billed as a marquee showdown, an epic vote.

I’ve read through parts and summaries of reports from the Congressional Budget Office and followed the big news outlets now and then, but I can’t claim to have been very diligent. I also will note that this blog is mostly a-political. After the better part of four years as a political reporter, I find politics vital but bluster and bombast all the same.

But I will offer a personal plea now for calm, cool reason. And for compassion. And for common sense, which tells us the system is broken for more than 30 million Americans, myself included.

I will try to be brief:Since I left my job in 2009 to chase my dreams, I have been uninsured. I will remain so until I head back to graduate school (probably not until late 2011).

I could not, would not do this were I living in the United States. The cost of health care at home is absurd; no one can deny that. There’s far too much corporate profit, legal buffering, inefficiency, waste, consumer stupidity and worse.

I couldn’t afford to freelance, I couldn’t afford to get sick. To have access to decent health care in the United States, one must work full-time or more.

But I’ve been in India for five months now, where health care is cheap and generally accessible. Yes the poor still suffer — it’s a developing nation — but the basics are still more affordable relative to income and the middle-class and above gets U.S.-quality health care at a fraction of the cost. As such, my savings and the bits of paid work I pick up here and there go much farther.

Health has also been on my mind lately; I eat mostly local, buy my food fresh and have been biking almost daily for a while now — up to 25km a day. My clothes are far too big. I can run up stairs. I’ve even tried jogging (which still seems utterly stupid and hurts my bad knee).

The health care debate at home strikes a particular chord because of my current predicament. My exercise regimen came to a halt two weeks ago when I was hit by a mini-truck and thrown from my bike. With help from a second, stupid crash 20 minutes later, I re-injured my right shoulder, which had previously suffered from a misaligned AC joint from that wonderful season of park football in St. Louis.

After some time resting the shoulder (stupid sling and all), muscle relaxers and a bit of travel with visiting friends, I got back on the bike today for another 25km. But my shoulder has some lingering issues and after the ride, felt like jello mixed with shrapnel.

The last time I hurt the shoulder, I eventually required an ultrasound, a visit to a specialist, a steroid shot and some physical therapy that would have cost more than a thousand dollars for anyone not insured in the U.S.

But this time, since I’m in India, without the United States’ attendant health care cluster, I can afford proper treatment. An initial doctor’s visit, an X-Ray and a filled prescription for muscle relaxers cost $20.55.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

What’s better, I got it all done in the span of four hours. My doctor answered her friggin’ cell phone and spoke to me directly. She even called me back the next day to confirm no broken bones after the radiologist gave the negatives a second look.

Now, since the shoulder is not healing as quickly as I’d like, I will probably have an MRI done. That would cost several thousand dollars back home; if necessary, I will go in for surgery here, too.

Think about that for a second: affording surgery as an uninsured, marginally employed person. Having one’s health — and one’s ability to get hurt and heal — not tied to work. Novel concept!

Dekho, I’m not asking for free healthcare back home. And I’m not suggesting either party has all the answers.

But I believe there’s a way to get reasonable premiums that aren’t subject to contracts, labor negotiations, balance sheets, corporate excess, bean-counting and greed.

I’m doing my part to be healthier; I’ll gladly shoulder (pun intended) the burden with reasonable requirements and incentives for regular check-ups and health maintenance. But I also don’t want to be rejected (as I was for a catastrophic insurance plan) for coverage because of my previous knee and shoulder issues.

Sounds nice, right? Am I simplifying? Yes. Are the details murder? Of course. Has government got a stellar track record at solving problems? No.

But occasionally Washington gets things right. And it’s simply too dismissive to say the devil is in the details or use difficulty or idealism as an excuse to give up.

Plus, I’d argue the real devil is in the political bickering that falls back on absolutes and extremes and predictions of doom. That politicking — it’s an election year, hooray! — has both sides acting like compromise (that lost art of consideration of all people, even those with whom you disagree) is akin to treason.

It’s become a political cliche to say that health care ought to be a human right. But when Jefferson spoke of the unalienable rights of mankind in a democratic and capitalist society, he was riffing on John Locke‘s principles of “life, health, liberty or possessions.”

Seems like maybe the millions of Americans demanding a new health care system are not out on a limb: Access to basic treatment ought to be a basic right and ensuring basic rights seems a worthy goal for the government.

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