The Editor's Desk

Obamacare and Musicians


by Andrew C Schlett


(Editor’s note: I’ve been wanting to write on the subject of Obamacare for quite a while
now, but I could never figure out how to put it into the context of music so it would be
appropriate to this webzine. Thanks to the Houston Press, I now have a segue and am
diving in head first. These opinions are mine alone and in no way reflect the editorial
policy or position of Rivethead Magazine. –ACS)


Recently, the Rivethead Magazine Facebook page shared a story originally run in the
stodgy old Houston Press about how the new Affordable Care Act affects the musician
community. The story centered on Hates founder and local Mohawked punk hero
Christian Kidd, well known to our readers and pictured on the magazine’s cover with his
devoted wife Alexis. She had been dealing with a series of medical issues for quite some
time. Now, thanks to the passage of Obamacare, she is no longer denied insurance
coverage due to her pre-existing conditions and is finally able to receive the treatments
and help that she needs. We as a publication and I as a fellow human being are very
happy for Mrs. Kidd, and we wish her the best luck and good health in her quick
recovery. In this case, the ACA was effective in its intended purpose.


The story then goes on to mention a singer/songwriter named Lee Alexander, less well
known to our readers but who, according to the article, had to scale back the pursuit of
his music dreams in order to hang on to his daytime teaching job and health insurance.
Now, I don’t know the particular circumstances of Mr. Alexander’s case. It’s quite
probable that there were other factors involved in his decision, a steady paycheck likely
being one of them. He may have a tremendous passion for teaching. Most of us like to
hold down a regular job anyway, musician or not, and really, nobody actually opposes
good health. But it is this particular line “…so that he could retain the health care
benefits that came with his teaching job” that caught my attention. The article does not
particularly say so, but the implication here is that Lee Alexander is not ever going to be a
famous singer/songwriter because he wishes to remain compliant with the new health
care laws. Be it the actual case or not, that is what’s inferred.


There has already been endless debate and discussion on the whole subject of
Obamacare. Those in favor say it will provide the universal health care access that a vast
society like that of the United States requires. Those against claim it will lay waste to our
current health care system and drive the national deficit straight into unrecoverable ruin.
Many have no opinion either way and have signed up under the ACA because it is now
the law and laws, of course, are made to be followed. Still others, myself included,
simply refuse to comply because, as Americans, we don’t have to. This is a particularly
critical point that I will elaborate on shortly.


Okay, before you shout me down, let me make it clear that I am not opposed to quality
health care. I don’t personally have very much faith in institutionalized Western
medicine in the first place, but if sick people can be made well through the mechanisms
of modern science and medicine then I’m all for that. It does strike me, though, that part
of the problem with our current health care system is the exorbitant expense. An
overnight hospital stay can cost thousands of dollars, and all the various advanced testing
and procedures that doctors routinely recommend can run into the tens or even hundreds
of thousands. Unless you’re somebody like Bill Gates, you probably can’t afford this.
That’s where the insurance companies come in. Theoretically, you pay them a certain
amount each month and they, in exchange, pick up the majority of your high-dollar
medical bills. If it were that simple, there would be no problems. Of course it is not that
simple; every expense and every doctor recommendation is reviewed by the insurance
company to determine if there’s any way they can avoid paying – and it is remarkable
how often they can find reasons not to approve – so the policyholder must either incur
that huge debt upon their self or forego the procedure altogether, no matter how important
it may be. Those who enjoy the benefits of good quality insurance coverage don’t have
any problems. Those who have less-than-comprehensive coverage get hosed. Those who
have no insurance at all can either become more of a financial burden upon an already
overwhelmed medical system or suffer quietly in their sickness and die in neglect.


In case there are any misconceptions, I would point out that no insurance company in the
entire history of the whole insurance industry has ever gone into the insurance business
because they are interested in seeing that the masses receive adequate policy coverage.
Each and every insurance company, regardless of the type of insurance offered, is in it for
the profit and no other reason. The for-profit insurance industry is almost singly to blame
for the outrageous cost of any medical procedures whatsoever in the first place, very
much like they are to blame for the high cost of collision repair in cases of auto damage.
To put that industry in charge of solving this whole problem is to create a whole new
problem.


Even a middle-aged rock journalist with no college degree can see that.


If I understand the Affordable Care Act correctly, its purpose and point is to ensure that
all Americans have sufficient medical insurance coverage to meet their healthcare needs
and those of their families. On the surface, this is a highly noble goal. If you go deeper
into the entire notion, though, you find a myriad of issues that become problematic. First
but certainly not least of these is the empowerment of the insurance industry itself.
Insurance has always been a good idea, probably, but it has also always been either
entirely voluntary or necessitated only as an attachment to something else. Homeowner’s
insurance, for example, is a standard requirement when one buys a house, but is
something that an apartment renter has no use for. Automobile insurance is mandated if
you wish to hold a valid driver’s license, true, but there is no law requiring you to drive.
If you walk to work and the grocery store, and don’t own a car, then you don’t need auto
insurance. All people, every single human being upon this planet, will at some point
require medical attention of some sort. Some will require more than others. Does simply
being born incur automatic financial obligation attendant to the lifelong expenses of one’s
natural biological maintenance?


There are some who would say yes, and with a measure of validity. Doctors and nurses
have to eat and pay bills too, after all. Others advocate for socialized medicine, in which
medical salaries come from tax dollars and all procedures are approved by the
government before they’re paid for. Unfortunately, way too many poor people are in a
position to not really care where the payment comes from, as long as the medical
treatment is delivered. Way too many poor people are disadvantaged in ways that
Washington lost touch with a long time ago. That’s the farce of all this, that these are
exactly the people ACA is supposed to help but so few of them can afford even the most
basic of monthly health plans, as opposed to things like paying rent, the electric bill,
buying groceries for their families and gas for their cars. Oh yeah, and their overpriced
car insurance, too. Legally requiring an additional expense of even something like $80 a
month on some people will make them have to choose between compliance with federal
law, or dinner. Good luck, federal law.


We will not even touch upon the fact that illegal immigrants or anyone else in this
country who is not an American citizen will not be compelled to buy into ACA, but will
still receive medical care in America if necessary, because that’s how America rolls. We
won’t say anything about the bumbling way in which the healthcare.gov website was so
dysfunctional upon opening or the ridiculously high taxpayer-funded expense to roll it
out. We also won’t mention the pointlessness of threatening a monetary fine upon
somebody who is an American citizen but chooses non-compliance with ACA. If I’m not
buying into your product or your law in the first place, then I’m probably not going to
pay your stupid fine either. Docking my tax refund? I’ll quit my job and go work for
some under-the-table employer who doesn’t want to pay the heavy Obamacare small-business
premiums anyway. Before long there will be a growing underground drop-out
sub-culture happening in America which will eventually lead to “Escape From New
York” type scenarios, it will be nothing but Obamacare to blame, and here is where I
explain exactly why we, as Americans, don’t have to buy into any of this if we don’t want
to.


It is exactly that: because we are Americans. Our Constitution guarantees every
American citizen the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Nowhere does it require us to buy health coverage.


On the surface, this sounds very much like a Tea Party statement, but it really is more of a
structural breakdown of the small steps incurrent towards my personal objection to this
law. Anytime that the government can compel its citizens to purchase something,
anything at all, even something so obviously important as good health care, then that
government is subsequently compelling its citizens to maintain a legitimate source of
income, a verifiable address, most likely a bank account to facilitate auto-pay transfers,
and a lifestyle that is consistent with that of responsible mainstream middle-of-the-road
compliancy. This is a choice that millions of Americans choose to make every day. But
to require all Americans to make that choice under threat of federal law is just plain
wrong. If for whatever reasons I decide to throw off all my social obligations and go live
under a freeway overpass, panhandling just enough chump change to pick up a bottle of
cheap sulfite wine and a pack of generic cigarettes each day, eating from handouts or
dumpsters or sometimes at the Star of Hope Mission downtown, and eventually die
outdoors and alone from exposure on a cold winter’s night, it is my guaranteed
Constitutional right to do so. I’m not likely to choose such a life, but there are many
people under freeway overpasses right now who did make that choice. Are you telling
me that those people, no doubt largely all American citizens and thus subject to penalty,
are going to be shopping at the healthcare.gov website? I kind of doubt it. It’s also worth
noting that a large percentage of the homeless in America did not opt for that lifestyle, but
rather have been forced there by a confluence of unfortunate or difficult circumstances.
Should these people also be fined?


Have bad luck, and/or poor lifestyle choices, just been criminalized? Has freedom just
been outlawed?


In the final analysis, it is simply beyond the intended scope or the safe reach of our
federal government to start telling us that we must participate in a system that is so
intrusive into and controlling of our very lives. That is why I will not participate, and
intend to continue living as a free and independent American, not one willingly roped
into the herd. I really do think accessible health care is a good idea. On the other hand, I
think insurance companies are the devil. So where do they meet? These are answers that
I do not have, since as I mentioned above I am nothing more than a middle-aged rock
journalist. But that’s the rest of the problem here. Unlike Obama and the federal
government, I’m not claiming to have any answers.


If you offered me a reasonable health care plan at what to me is an affordable rate,
suggesting how helpful that might be as I grow further toward old age, and make the
enrollment plan voluntary, I might be interested. If you want to strong-arm me into
buying this just because it’s the law and compliance with the law is mandatory, I will tell
you to go to hell. Every single day for the rest of my uninsured, un-doctor-attended lack-of-
adequate-health-care shortened life until finally I die, but die as a free man. Coming
back around to the top of this article, it truly warms my heart to hear that Alexis and
Christian Kidd will have many more happy years together due to the Affordable Care Act,
and I find it depressingly sad that poor Lee Alexander will have to languish forever in the
total obscurity of his classroom for the same reason. We all make choices in life. I prefer
the government not make mine for me.


To paraphrase no less an esteemed Founding Father and true patriot than Benjamin
Franklin, “he who would trade freedom for healthcare deserves neither freedom nor
healthcare.” Truer words have never been paraphrased.

Because the Music Matters!!!