Lori Gottlieb writes about the sticker and service shock she received when informed that she was one of the millions affected by Obamacare’s policy “glitches”:
THE Anthem Blue Cross representative who answered my call told me that there was a silver lining in the cancellation of my individual P.P.O. policy and the $5,400 annual increase that I would have to pay for the Affordable Care Act-compliant option: now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I’d be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. Never mind that the new provider network would eliminate coverage for my and my son’s long-term doctors and hospitals.
The Anthem rep cheerily explained that despite the company’s — I paraphrase — draconian rates and limited network, my benefits, which also include maternity coverage (handy for a 46-year-old), would “be actually much richer.”
I, of course, would be actually much poorer. And it was this aspect of the bum deal that, to my surprise, turned out to be a very unpopular thing to gripe about.
“Obamacare or Kafkacare?” I posted on Facebook as soon as I hung up with Anthem. I vented about the call and wrote that the president should be protecting the middle class, not making our lives substantially harder. For extra sympathy, I may have thrown in the fact that I’m a single mom. (O.K., I did.)
Then I sat back and waited for the love to pour in. Or at least the “like.” Lots of likes. After all, I have 1,037 Facebook friends. Surely, they’d commiserate.
Except that they didn’t.
Instead, her “friends” regaled Gottlieb with quasi-jokes about not turning down coverage for sex-change operations, because they were free, and lectured her about how she should supposedly shut up about her own personal circumstances because some amorphous “they” out there would have it much better under Obamacare than they did before the Affordable (ha!) Care Act was passed and implemented. Apparently, not only should the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, but the one doesn’t even have the right to register a note of annoyance on social media.
It doesn’t take much to see just how incredibly insulting all of this self-righteous rhetoric is:
Like Bridget Jones’s “smug marrieds,” the “smug insureds” — friends who were covered through their own or spouses’ employers or who were grandfathered into their plans — asked why I didn’t “just” switch all of our long-term doctors, suck it up and pay an extra $200 a month for a restrictive network on the exchange, or marry the guy I’m dating. How romantic: “I didn’t marry you just to save money, honey. I married you for your provider network.”
Along with the smug insureds, President Obama doesn’t care much about the relatively small percentage of us with canceled coverage and no viable replacement. He keeps apologizing while maintaining that it’s for the good of the country, a vast improvement “over all.”
And the “over all” might agree. But the self-employed middle class is being sacrificed at the altar of politically correct rhetoric, with nobody helping to ensure our health, fiscal or otherwise, because it’s trendy to cheer for the underdog. Embracing the noble cause is all very well — as long as yours isn’t the “fortunate” family that loses its access to comprehensive, affordable health care while the rest of the nation gets it.
Now, to be sure, I am not dumping on all forms of utilitarian thinking. The notion that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, does have a compelling logic to it, and should be accepted in certain circumstances. But one only ought to go down this utilitarian route after exhausting all other options, because the needs of the one are not supposed to be inconsequential. Quite the contrary; they are supposed to be safeguarded as much as humanly possible. No one asks for perfection in the crafting of policy. But basic competence and foresight should be prerequisites when designing, passing and implementing laws of the land.
And in this case, basic competence and foresight were tossed to the side. Obamacare is a bad law, badly crafted, hurriedly passed with the help of obnoxious admonitions about how we are supposed to vote it into law in order to find out what is in it. It was premised on a deliberate, calculated, repeatedly voiced falsehood; that if we liked our pre-existing health care plans, we could keep them, and that if we wanted to continue a relationship with our doctors and our hospitals, Obamacare would not interfere with that relationship in the slightest. And now that the flaws of the law are coming to light, now that the implementation has turned out to be a calamity, now that we find out that the bloody website won’t even work, and now that the deceptions are being exposed and millions are being made to suffer the consequences, we are being told that if we are one of the aggrieved, we should suck it up because (a) other people have it worse; and (b) Mr. Spock has started preaching.
Maybe some people actually believe this . . . stuff, but since adequate measures were clearly not taken in order to ensure that Obamacare would work for as many people as possible, I’m not buying what they are selling. And what’s more, I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that there are a lot of people out there who are only pretending to be utilitarians about this entire calamity, and who would drop their faux-utilitarianism in one-one millionth of a nanosecond if it were their lives and fortunes being affected by a bad policy, and if the bad policy in question were being pushed by a president and a party they disapproved of. I an further willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that the real motivation of the faux-utilitarians is to shut people up, to keep them from complaining and dissenting, to shame them into accepting a deal that is plainly against their interests, a deal that hurts them right in the pocketbook and right when they need quality healthcare the most. After all, the more complaints and dissents there are, the greater the possibility that Obamacare may be either significantly amended or replaced, and the greater the chances that President Obama and all those who pushed for Obamacare may be made to look bad politically and suffer electorally as a consequence.
And certain people just can’t have that. Remember: Dissent was only the highest form of patriotism when the previous guy was in the Oval Office.
In a republican democracy, we don’t suffer as a result of complaints and dissent. We thrive on them. We prosper thanks to well-meaning folks who point out flaws and demand fixes. We do better, act better and get better when someone blows the whistle on bad policy and dishonest politics. And if we are calling out a policy as poorly thought out and poorly executed, our complaints are not made any less legitimate merely because we might be motivated by self-interest. The presence of self-interest does not mean that we are the only ones who have a particular problem with a particular policy. And even if we are, if a particular policy could have been crafted to avoid a Spockian dilemma, but wasn’t, then that policy still deserves to be denounced. Recall the Monty Python sketch from which the title of this post draws its inspiration:
John Cleese’s character had a selfish interest in piping up about the fact that he was sold a dead parrot. That didn’t make his character wrong to register a complaint, and the notion that the character should swallow his complaints so that pet shop owners throughout Great Britain could prosper financially by selling people dead pets would be laughed out of any civilized conversation. So it should go with Obamacare; a should-be-ex-policy, if ever there was one.