The Universal Notebook: Our sick society

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Over the past week I have spent a lot of time in the bowels of the local health-care system, including a weekend visit to an urgent-care facility, a few days in the hospital, a visit to my primary-care physician for my annual physical, and a very minor surgical procedure, ending up with a referral to a specialist.

Being sick is a break from reality. Oh, it’s real enough all right, but two sleepless nights in the hospital was enough to make me start thinking that my comfortable old life might be a thing of the past. When you’re sick, nothing else matters but getting well. Illness becomes the new normal.

Flat on my back, except when visiting the porcelain throne, I felt my world reduced to pain and nausea. I didn’t care about the news or sports, didn’t watch television at all, didn’t even read the newspaper. I was one man in one bed in one room. The only information that mattered to me was delivered via IV, CAT scan, thermometer, blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter, blood test and urine culture.

And all this information was delivered to me by very kind and professional doctors, nurses, aides, technicians and caregivers, most of whom I had never met before. They kept me as comfortable as possible while looking for the cause of and cure for my symptoms. They worked quickly and efficiently on my behalf and, in the end, I got a partial answer to what was ailing me. Nothing particularly interesting or uncommon, but it sure knocked me for a loop.

I’m not telling you this because I am looking for sympathy. I am telling you this because, as I started to respond to their ministrations, I kept thinking “I sure hope everyone who is sick gets this kind of care.” I’m sure they do – if they have health insurance.

I am blessed with private health insurance, such that I don’t have to worry about how I am going to pay the medical bills. I can’t imagine being in a situation where I’d have to think twice before seeking medical treatment. And I hate to think that there are people who do. Health care should not be based on ability to pay.

As I lay there wretched and retching I was remotely aware that the U.S. Congress was in the midst of a heated debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. The ACA helped tens of millions of Americans secure health-care coverage. The AHCA will hurt tens of millions of people who need health insurance, covering fewer and costing more. Certainly the ACA (a.k.a. Obamacare) is in need of revision and reform, but the AHCA (a.k.a. Ryancare or Trumpcare) is a cynical measure that will make millions of Americans suffer so Republicans can claim an ideological victory.

The progressive ideology is that health care is a human right and that every effort should be made to provide universal coverage. Personally, I don’t think the ACA went far enough. The United States is the only major country that does not provide health coverage for all its citizens. What we need is universal single-payer health care.

The conservative ideology is that health care is a privilege you have to earn on your own, not ask the government to provide. It’s survival of the fittest.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, pointed out on CNN that the AHCA “is going to hammer Maine,” raising health-care premiums, for example, for a 64-year-old making $26,000 a year from $1,800 under the ACA to $14,000.

“But,” the AHCA’s supporters cheer, “Americans will be free to choose. No more mandate.” The requirement that all American have health insurance was viewed by conservatives as a huge assault on freedom.

Well, you only have freedom of choice if you can afford to pay for your choice.

Nothing surprises me anymore about Republicans in Congress, so I won’t be surprised if, despite howls of execration from within and without the GOP, the AHCA ultimately passes in some form. I will be surprised, however, if American voters reward Republicans for such meanness and mendacity.

Oh, and to finish my personal health report, as I type this in my pajamas and bathrobe, I still have a lingering low-grade fever, occasional chills and a touch of nausea, but I’m not sure that’s all just the virus.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.