Opinion: What’s At Stake on Health Care

If anything like the House bill becomes law, forget fixing income inequality

There’ll be plenty of time to digest what effects Congress’ replacement of the Affordable Care Act will have on Charlotteans and everyone else, and to contemplate what the Senate might propose that differs substantially from the monstrous bill the House passed last week.

But for now, consider this: Communities around the country are slowly, haltingly, trying to get their hands and minds around the increasing divide between rich and poor as what once was the American middle class washes away. Charlotte is trying to manage the problem across multiple fields, from student reassignment in public schools to attempt, feebly, to break up concentrations of poverty; to fast-tracking construction of affordable housing; to public transit plans to jump-start development in poor and minority neighborhoods and allow their residents to travel more easily and affordably within the city; to reviews of police practices. All of them, one way or another, represent attempts to repair or improve a system that concentrates wealth and discards or neglects those without it.

If the United States enacts a health care system in which a significant portion of the populace cannot afford health insurance—meaning death or financial ruin for those who need expensive medical care—and allows insurance companies to charge at will even people who have insurance through their employers, all the attempts in the world to bridge the gap between rich and poor would amount to nothing. You may as well pack up your earnest task forces and community initiatives and dedicated funds for housing subsidies. People would suffer, die, and declare bankruptcy. All but the extremely rich would live in a state of constant worry over the threat of a car accident, or a runaway infection, or an undiagnosed birth defect. There’d be nothing that cities like Charlotte could do about it.

What comes to mind is the climactic scene in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, in which the protagonist, a World War II bombardier named Yossarian, treats a tail gunner’s flak wound in the plane after a bombing run. “I’m cold,” the wounded airman, Snowden, keeps whispering. With great skill and patience, Yossarian treats the leg wound, allowing himself some pride when he ties the tourniquet “with a tidy square knot.”

“You’re going to be all right, kid,” Yossarian says, then notices that Snowden is wounded under his flak jacket. He rips the jacket open and—well, if you’ve read the book, you know, and if you haven’t, just know that Snowden is beyond saving. All of Yossarian’s efforts were less than worthless. “Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret,” Heller writes. “Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage.” Yossarian pulls the ripcord of the airman’s parachute and wraps him in the white fabric.

Categories: The Buzz