Monday, November 19, 2012

What I have to do

There are a lot of things I don't have to do. I don't have to wear dress socks with sandals. I don't have to pretend to enjoy the music of Leonard Cohen. And I certainly do not have to agree with your conclusions just because I agree with your premises.

Let me back up a bit here. During the vice-presidential debates, nearly a month back,  moderator Martha Raddatz asked Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, respectively, to state his position on abortion. Ryan responded that he believes life begins at conception and that those who agree must then consider themselves pro-life and support pro-life policies, presumably as dictated by the Republican Party. That's when I said, "Step back, Loretta!"

I'm going to state for the record that I'm not trying to start a debate about abortion, nor do I have the slightest interest in changing anyone's opinion. I'm pro-choice but if you hold another position, fine. Have at it. However, I am quite adamant about contesting Mr. Ryan's bold assertion. I have a semi-firm belief that, yes, human life does begin at conception, but for me there is no dotted line connecting that belief to support for spousal notification or forced ultrasound laws. I can explain this seeming contradiction with two friendly little terms: nuance and context.

Nuance: The recognition of a zygote as human life is a long, long way from recognizing that zygote as a human being. I do not, for example, consider an acorn the equal of a oak tree, even though the humble acorn is the origin of every mighty oak. If I have planted an acorn and then a week later change my mind about its location, I do not summon a landscaper with a bulldozer to transplant it. That's because the acorn is not an oak tree and does not require or merit the same treatment. Instead, I go out to my yard with a goddamned spade, dig up the thing and plant it elsewhere. Similarly, I don't worry about offending a zygote, or hurting its feelings, or being sensitive to its emotional needs because it doesn't have those.  Someday, sure, but not now. Now it is a zygote, not a human being, and I treat it accordingly.

Context: The meeting of sperm and egg is a wondrous event, but it does not spontaneously take place on a kitchen table or in a library without human involvement; if it did, I'd be open to arguments about protecting it in whatever way possible. However, this miraculous joining happens inside the body of a sentient human being who has rights and preferences and all those things that make individuals who they are. Protecting a zygote that just appears in mid-air is much simpler than protecting one that's gestating inside an individual. So context matters, you see, and when we're discussing forcing sentient beings to carry pregnancies to term it matters even more.

Now, Joe Biden's reply to Ryan was something like I-agree-but-don't-try-to-force-my-beliefs-on-others, which is fine but not what I really hungered to hear. I find that many political-type philosophies are very simplistic and internally consistent but have few points of contact with the real world, and Ryan's was one of them. And I get really ticked off when someone tells me what I must believe. Yes, I agree with Ryan's central premise, but he and I could not disagree more on the real-world implications. So, Mr. Ryan, I have to pay taxes, stay gay, and die, but I do not have to agree with any of your damn conclusions.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Conservatives...this one's for you

And I mean that in a totally non-gloating way. This is a post-election post, if you haven't already guessed, and I'll get right to it.

This election, for me, was all about preserving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. You'd think by now that all the press coverage about the thing would mean everyone understands what it does, but I find that most people who either support or oppose the law have no idea what it really does. I'm no health care expert but I will admit to knowing quite a bit about this law, so I will provide a thumbnail description. Boiled down, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does three things in terms of health insurance: regulate, mandate, and subsidize.

Regulate: The ACA imposes a raft of new regulations on insurers, foremost among them a ban on discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. There's also a ban on rescission, that practice of insurers canceling the policies of the seriously (and expensively) sick, based on some technical error in the medical underwriting process. Insurers can no longer impose lifetime caps on coverage, and must allow children to remain on their parents' policies until they are 26.  

Mandate: Nearly all Americans will be required to purchase health insurance, which spreads out the risk insurers must assume and lowers the cost insurers must charge. Those who are already insured may keep their policies if they like, and those who choose to go uninsured must pay a tax penalty. The IRS cannot attach wages to collect this tax, nor can it place liens on property, although it can withhold tax repayments.  

Subsidize: Those who cannot afford insurance will receive a subsidy from the federal government to help defray the cost. Currently, single people earning up to $44,000 a year qualify for subsidies. The poorest of the poor will qualify for Medicaid, which has been expanded for just this purpose. In addition, Medicare recipients saw the closing of the prescription drug “doughnut hole”, amounting to hundreds of dollars in savings every year.

There's more to the ACA, such as the the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel that will look for ways to enhance Medicare efficiency and cut waste and that, contrary to popular opinion, is prohibited by law from imposing coverage limits on recipients. I could go on and on.

Why am I going on about this? Because the ACA, while imperfect, is a good deal better than the system we had, a system that shut out tens of millions who were either unable to qualify for health insurance or unable to afford it. The ACA will ensure that those, like me, who are uninsurable on the private market, will have access to quality, affordable health insurance. No more discrimination, exclusions, or rescission. If you want health insurance you can have it. Period.

This is a good thing. I have conservative friends, and one in particular who, like me, would never, ever get past the medical underwriting process. Election night saw me smiling because I knew that he would never, ever again need to worry about being without decent insurance, and that his wife and son and friends and relatives would never have to worry on his account. And that's what politics is supposed to be about: solving problems for people. Not conservative people or liberal people; all people.

So, my conservative brothers and sisters, although for you this is a tough time, remember that we who voted against your candidate have your back. Even though you disagree with us, often vociferously, we're not going to let you go it alone. Even if you don't know it, our victory is your victory, and I for one am happy to share it.