Watching supporters and even architects of the Affordable Care Act defend the health care program’s dismal roll-out is scary. In snippet after snippet, sound bite after sound bite, we’re being exposed to the cold, heartless face of progressivism. All those victims of canceled policies, why, they had “subpar” plans, and they’ll be a lot happier once they get the shiny, new policies available through the ACA exchanges. Or, to put it another way, let them eat cake. Or at least, get in the bread line for cake.
Add to the dubious rationales for the ACA, this one: “genetic winners” were unfairly getting health insurance at low rates, while sicker, less fortunate folks–those who drew a bad ticket in the genetic lottery–suffered. So said MIT’s Jonathan Gruber in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd:
“We currently have a highly discriminatory system where if you’re sick, if you’ve been sick or [if] you’re going to get sick, you cannot get health insurance.
“The only way to end that discriminatory system is to bring everyone into the system and pay one fair price. That means that the genetic winners, the lottery winners who’ve been paying an artificially low price because of this discrimination now will have to pay more in return”
I don’t have a problem with the desire to look for better, fairer ways to cover those with preexisting conditions, particularly those who’ve lost insurance through job changes and the like. No, my problem with Gruber’s statement is that it implies that so-called genetic lottery winners somehow knew of their special status when first buying insurance and thus gamed the system to get a special deal.
When you first sign up for health insurance, you don’t always know what you’re drawing in the genetic lottery. But if you’re responsible, you buy insurance. You don’t wait until you’re sick, until the preexisting condition appears.
Take my family, for instance. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, my husband and I started careers in the well-paying, opportunity-plentiful field of opera. I sang, he directed and stage managed. Money flowed like…molasses in the Arctic. Slowly. A little at a time. Often stopping.
Despite our choice of such an unstable field, we knew enough not to risk big health care bills by going without insurance. To be honest, we weren’t thinking of our own financial future so much as that of our parents. We knew that should something happen to us, they’d step up to cover our shortfall. And we knew in the case of medical bills, a shortfall for us could mean tens of thousands of dollars. We wouldn’t do that to them.
So, I made sure that I had health insurance through a part-time choir director position.
That turned into a wise move. It paid for my prenatal care and the birth of our first child.
After that, we moved and were back in to freelancing. We discovered, however, that a county farm bureau offered reduced-rate insurance plans to members. And you didn’t need to be a farmer to be a member! So we paid the small membership fee, signed up for insurance, and were happy to get a farm bureau newsletter regularly, even if we grumbled about the monthly premiums we had to handle on our own.
Eventually we said farewell to music and got real jobs. With benefit packages. We’ve had health insurance through jobs since then.
And it’s a good thing because, in the “genetic lottery,” we’ve pulled a few bad tickets. Our insurance companies have had to shell out a bunch for us.
So, while I understand the challenge of those seeking insurance who have preexisting conditions, and I would support, as I’m sure many others would, ways to amp up high-risk pool insurance so it’s more affordable, I refuse to buy into the idea that a good deal from the “genetic lottery” is why some people have done okay in the health insurance market.
No, some people have been responsible, Mr. Gruber. They didn’t wait to get insurance until they were sick. They didn’t figure someone else would take care of them.
Even two clueless opera players figured that out.
Now, we wait for the other shoe to drop in the ACA, when employer-based health care plans face changes. We drew some bad tickets in the genetic lottery but we responsibly bought insurance before we knew our destinies. That won’t protect us from the Grubers of the world, though, who see nothing wrong with solving the problem they happen to care about by hurting those for whom they have little compassion.
Libby Sternberg is now in the lucrative and stable field of writing. She’s a novelist.