Several years ago we had a small pet rat colony – four of them (all females BTW). As we observed this little group we noticed they had formed a little society: There was the “Lookout” rat who always sat where she could monitor the entire room and watch for any danger; the “Shopper” rat who was responsible for bringing back food and supplies to the main cage (we had a bit of a maze and left food in various areas); and there was the “Homemaker” rat who spent her days cleaning and rearranging the nests and food supply.
And last, there was the one we called the “Welfare” rat. We never actually saw her involved in any activity that added to the quality of life for this little group, but with zero reluctance or animosity the others shared with her the fruits of their labors. For whatever the reason, the other three seemed to have determined that she needed care and protection, and they gave it willingly.
This little society has been heavily on my mind the last few weeks – and especially the last few days as I've ended up in discussions about the funding and necessity of the social assistance programs in our country, and what's going to happen to them as we begin a new era of government.
I have two friends whose viewpoints regarding the Affordable Care Act and Medicare/Medicaid differ greatly from mine. As I listen to their arguments against these programs one attitude stands out: “I worked and paid for MY healthcare and I resent having to help subsidize anyone else. Let them go out and get their own job and pay for their own healthcare.”
Of course, both of these individuals seem to think that the only people in need of societal assistance and support are the drug addicts and alcoholics. They forget about some of the folks my friend who runs a soup kitchen tells me about: The couple from out of town who are trying to qualify for assistance for her cancer treatment. They are sleeping in their car because they have no money.
And there's the young guy my friend is helping to get surgery … he had a stroke which did some great mental damage and rendered him incapable of holding a normal job. He became homeless and the years of living rough have deteriorated his physical condition to the point where he now lives with chronic severe pain. There are surgeries that could help him, but he's not mentally capable of dealing with the bureaucracy that will get him help. So when he can get in to see a doctor, they just prescribe pain killers … addictive pain killers. And the addiction of course makes it that much more difficult for him to communicate or pursue a more permanent fix which in turn could enable him to hold down a job.
But...he's an addict, so why do we want to share our hard-earned money to help him?
And I think of a friend who at least has a family and support network in place, but who suffered a brain aneurysm several years ago. She can no longer work and their family went from being comfortable middle class to moving back in with parents and struggling to keep the bills paid.
Of the 20 million people who now have some health coverage thanks to Obamacare; and of the millions more on Medicare and Medicaid, these stories are the far more common. And yet, my one friend tells me that for people living in states that have turned down the Obamacare assistance – it's not a problem. People with chronic issues can still get help; they can just go to the emergency room.
Apparently she doesn't get that someone in need of surgery is not likely to get it from an emergency room visit; someone with a chronic, debilitating condition such as – say, kidney failure – cannot show up at the emergency room for a regular dialysis treatment. And never mind that ultimately all of us do pay for those emergency room visits which are passed on in higher charges for the patients who do have insurance; and higher county and state indigency subsidies which come out of our taxes.
Of course, we don't have to worry about them for long because they do die off a lot sooner.
Now, my friend actually does have a degenerative nerve disease and she has refused to give in to the relentless progression. She continues to work and to drive herself … and stay out of a wheelchair. I admire and honor her courage and her determination to keep going and to care for herself. But I also know that very few of us are that determined and that strong nor do we all end up with some of the resources that she had and was able to exploit when her condition was first diagnosed.
When last I spoke with her, she was, in fact delivering turkeys to a local food bank because, “Even poor people have a right to a turkey on Thanksgiving.” But, apparently, they don't have a right to medical care if they can't pay for it.
My other friend just feels that she and her husband worked hard and paid for everything they got; and she resents now having to again pay for Medicare when the money she paid in when she was working just got dumped into the General Fund – at least that's what she was told by the folks at Medicare – and by golly, if you didn't work to pay for your Medicare, why should she help you out?
Which makes me think of my neighbor who was a stay-at-home mom; she raised her children – and then she raised foster children – a bunch of them! – and so she never had a job with a paycheck that had Medicare or Social Security deducted. She can barely make ends meet with what little pension she gets from her deceased husband's retirement; rent, utilities and food pretty well eat that up.
And yet, she performed a pretty valuable service to our society. Don't we owe her something? At a minimum decent health care? According to my friend, we don't.
I think of both of my friends as loving, caring – good people. They attend church. They donate to various causes. But, they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to who “deserves” medical care: not someone who didn't work and earn it; not drug addicts; not the homeless or jobless; not immigrants; not the mentally or physically disabled. Nobody, it seems other than people like themselves. The rest? Well, they'll just have to live in pain and misery because nobody should be asked to share their resources with those who don't have any.
So, I think about our little rat colony, and I have to ask myself: Which of us is actually the more evolved species?