Healthcare for all except in America

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

A propeller airplane just flew over my house. What a great memory-jogger. It’s right out of my growing-up-in-Iowa-1950s sound box, and it sets the scene: backyard, 607 South Oak, a mid-morning in June, harvesting strawberries from the backyard patch and wishing it were one o’clock so I could go swimming.

I quit pulling weeds and lay on my back in the grass to watch the prop plane fly over. Who is it up there? Where is he going? (I was not yet a feminist, so I wasn’t thinking the pilot could have been a female.) When can I go, too?

My dad had a friend who was a pilot, and one day the three of us did fly-overs above my house, my school, the pool, Dad’s childhood farm near Scranton, Squirrel Hollow. It was noisy but thrilling. I was hooked. I told Dad I was going to take flying lessons. The pilot told me how much it would cost me. I said maybe I’d do it when I grew up. After all, my allowance was 25 cents a week, and the lessons were $25 an hour.

I dreamed of taking flying lessons for years and never did it. I guess it wasn’t such a big dream, after all. Although now, I think it was a big dream, I just didn’t have the guts to do it or the will to save the money to do it. I was condemning myself to wanna-be-ness each time I dreamed of flying and did nothing about it.

It became a pattern for me – giving up on my dreams. The next dream? I had it first when I was in high school after I read Truman Capote’s novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I decided that I could go to New York City when I graduated and live with Capote and write books.

I did go to NYC with my dad the spring I graduated from Jefferson. That trip was my graduation present. It was interesting and very fun, and I got to spend hours alone with my dad…a treat for any offspring. I did not return to NYC until I was 40, traveling there with a writer friend who was interviewing agents.

So much for that dream. I did not write for money till I was 37.

Another dream of mine, maybe like almost every kid, was to grow up and live my life alone – no parents, no siblings; all responsibilities and privileges mine alone. This dream came true eventually, long after I learned that adulthood wasn’t all it was thought to be by a young girl. Now I live alone with no parents, no siblings and no spouse. But with all the responsibilities. The privileges are fine; and other than the haphazardness of being born into the white middle class, most of the privileges are things I have worked for. Living alone has pros and cons, more and less okay to endure or enjoy, depending on the day.

My dream now is pretty simple – good health and the means to maintain it.

I did not realize I should have had an earlier and oftener dream about this. I have decent genes, I have taken reasonably good care of myself, I have a modicum of health insurance for the available healthcare which is random and expensive. We’ll see how well it carries me as I continue on this path that we’re all traveling.

Italy, one of the poorer countries of the European Union, has provided inexpensive health care for all since 1978; it’s called Servizio Sanitario Nazionale. I was visiting in Italy in 2011 when my hostess had a breast cancer scare. I went with her to all appointments, including consultations with doctors. The clinic and the hospital were no frills – as in no receptionists, no magazines or TV in the waiting rooms (the people waiting paid strict attention to who went next); and the docs had no assistants. My friend was sent to the regional hospital (like a trip to Des Moines from Jeff), told to follow the pink arrow to her destination in the mammography department, and it was all over that day – no wait for the announcement that she was clean of cancer. She paid nothing.

I was impressed by all of it, especially the no-frills of refusing frivolous expenses like TVs.
Our young-age dreams either came true or became a footnote to our lives. Now, we all dream about decent, inexpensive healthcare like our friends in Italy have; or our representatives in Congress.

In the U.S., there are two areas where members of Congress (MOC) can receive free or low-cost health care that the average citizen cannot. The first is access to the Office of the Attending Physician – there, MOC can receive free care for routine examinations, consultations, and certain diagnostic tests. The second option is available to members of Congress while in the Capital region — they may receive free medical outpatient care at military facilities.

Members of Congress and their staff are required by law to purchase their health insurance through the exchanges offered by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The federal government subsidizes approximately 72 percent of the premium cost. If the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is repealed, members of Congress have a fallback plan. They will be able to return to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Twenty million other Americans won’t.

We who dream on.

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