Back to Work For Affordable Healthcare

It’s kind of a fog, but from what I recall, we had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. 2 kids in diapers. 2 kids who needed naps at different times of the day, and who needed to eat every 2 hours or so. 2 car seats with complicated buckles to fumble in the triple-digit heat. The older one was a chronic thumb-sucker, and in part-time day care. So we were all sick, all the time. We’d pass it around, and by the time the last one of us was better, a new and exciting germ funk would be making the rounds. There wasn’t a lot of sleep.

I was the solo pastor of a smallish but growing church in the Phoenix metro area. My husband managed a busy hotel. And here’s the thing about hotels and churches–they don’t keep to what you’d call “normal” hours, or a schedule of any kind. In his world, some days are heavy with check-ins, and others, check-outs. (The same might be said about church life, make of the metaphors what you will). There are always special events and occasions; both churches and hotels keep to their own interesting sort of calendar, which does not always jive with the real world. Both involve middle of the night phone calls, unpredictable days, and constant demands on your attention and emotional energy–even when you are not physically present, or on-the-clock, as such.

In other words, we had 4 kids. Basically. 2 babies+1 hotel+ 1 church = 4 living organisms that always needed something. Some people raise 4 kids and do just fine. But it really was not for us. And we couldn’t do it any more.

And so it happened that, 5 years ago (almost to the day) my 6-foot-7 rockstar superdad spouse left his job to stay home with the babies. Our salaries were comparable; I loved my job and he did not, so it was a no-brainer when it came down to who was going to do what.

We did what made the most sense for our family at the time. As hard as it’s been at times, it continued to make sense for a long time.

Now those kids are bigger. Nobody’s in diapers; nobody sucks their thumb; they feed and dress themselves, communicate with words, do household chores, and, thanks be to God, can operate the remote control. Most importantly, they are both in big kid school, which means the days of paying for expensive childcare/preschool are over. (Even though we do, for awhile longer, have to pay for Kindergarten–thanks, Kansas). All of which is to say that, yesterday, after 5 years of doing this whole Papa Bear gig like a boss, my man went back to work.

Because it was just time.

It was time for him to have a career and a network and personal goals again. It was time, baby Jesus, for TWO PAYCHECKS. But mostly, you know what put us over the edge? Healthcare.

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Up until 2017, my denomination had group insurance for clergy and other full-time employees. Trouble is, it was expensive, and not great coverage. So few churches were able to afford it, the plan finally just folded. Increasingly, clergy have to be bi-vocational if they want healthcare, or else rely on their spouse’s employer. At the beginning of this calendar year, I signed my family up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, because that was literally our only option. Like the plan previously offered through my church, it was very expensive and not great coverage. But it was there.

Promptly after I made my first payment, the GOP majority vowed that they were going to take away even this option. There will be something else they say, something better. But details about that “else” and “better” have not been forthcoming. I am not optimistic.

My husband’s new job gives us far better coverage at a fraction of the cost, so like the initial decision for him to stay home, the decision for him to go back was equally obvious. Even if he wasn’t making a decent salary, the secure benefits alone would be worth him going back to work.

And it’s fine, because like I say, it was time–for many reasons. But truly, folks… it should not be this way. We should not live in a world where our move, every important decision, is dictated by the question of whether or not we can go to the doctor if we get sick. It should not be this hard.

My concerns about marketplace coverage aside–namely, that it is neither affordable nor comprehensive–for many families, it is the only option. Or a far better option than the alternatives. While imperfect, this controversial bit of legislation went a long way toward making care available for those who would otherwise have few choices. And any increase in cost, year over year, should be blamed on the carriers–not on the legislation itself. When the expectation is that top executives in the healthcare industry should gross millions–even billions–a year in personal gain, then of course costs are going to rise. As long as no regulations are placed on those increases, they are going to continue to rise, astronomically, every year.

Government obstruction has kept this program from thriving. The goal of the ACA was that each state would create its own competitive healthcare market. The clear benefit would be to the consumer. However, many states chose not to participate, because they wanted to prove the plan could not work. (Kansas, I’m looking at you again). As a result, more and more carriers have chosen to pull out of certain states altogether. So in some places (ahem, Kansas) there are literally no choices–one carrier alone left in the marketplace, and it can charge the consumer as much as it wants, because there are no checks and balances; and no competition.

The expense is grotesque. But still, the legislation behind the ACA offers security to many people who would otherwise not be able to get care at all. I know many of these folks. You do too. They are people living with serious and/or chronic illness; without the pre-existing condition protections of the ACA, millions of Americans will be deemed “un-insurable” and have no access to care. Students who are currently covered under their parents will have to drop out of school and get full-time (probably low-paying) jobs. Women will have to fight even harder to access basic care and birth control. And of course, repeal of the Affordable Care Act means that we go back to the days when women are charged twice as much as men for basic services.

The ultimate and cruelest irony is that the folks behind “Repeal and replace” call themselves pro-life. Abortion rates are at an all-time low since Obamacare. And yet, all we hear is talk of how evil this legislation has been. It doesn’t add up. Or rather, it only adds up to more evidence that the desire to repeal this law is not in the interest of the people, but rather, a political vendetta. (Note: if you are one of those funny YouTube people who don’t realize that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing, read up and come back later. Thx).

As I continue to remind my representatives–and as I hope you will too–‘repeal and replace’ doesn’t work without an actual replacement plan. And nobody seems to have one. This is just one more attempt to obstruct and undermine the legacy of the outgoing President, and leave a blank slate for the incoming administration to further their own financial and political interests. All in the name of freedom.

What I know is this–freedom means choices.

The American dream is all about choices–the choice to stay in school and keep learning; the choice to quit a dead-end job and start your own business; the choice to work at a church or non-profit or some area of public service; the choice to quit work and be at home with the kids, if that’s what works for you; to be an artist, a musician, a writer, or even a farmer. These folks make democracy go round, but our legislators propose a reality in which any of these choices would come with a loss of the most basic necessities.

Getting sick should not be a death sentence; bankruptcy should not be the expected side effect of an illness. And a chronic condition should not mean a life-sentence in whatever job or relationship you might be in at the moment. If we want to protect our freedom to make those decisions based on what’s best for our families at any given time, then it’s time to get back to work.

If you think the Government should not be able to take away care without offering a significantly better alternative, then get to work. Call and tell your representatives. Tell them that your American dream is to live with the spirit of industry and innovation on which our country was founded… That we should be able to start families, start companies, pursue education, and dream beyond the punching of the timeclock and still–somehow–be able to see a doctor when we are sick. If they don’t agree with you, they should probably find another gig. Or another country.

I hear Russia is nice this time of year.

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