Dear Mr. President,
The bipartisan summit on health care is a significant risk. While I feel that you did very well in your open q & a with the republicans, there's no telling how the other democrats will come across. That being said, I'm glad you're doing it. I'm hopeful that it will be politically beneficial, and that it will move the health care debate forward. The other night, while discussing health care policy with one of my like-minded friends, she expressed concern that the passage of the current bill, which we both see as no solution but rather a step in the right direction, would breed complacency on the issue. I may have disagreed with her, but part of me fears she is right. I believe that the reform bill is important enough to pass now, but I also believe that, no matter how tired people are of the health care debate, the bill will not go far enough to help the people who need it the most. My hope is that, once the bill is passed and the whole system doesn't collapse, people will allow more aggressive reform.
I don't have health insurance, Mr. President. My employer offers it, but I've only recently become eligible for it. To make matters worse, recent years have seen premiums more than double, while co-pays increase and benefits decrease. None of the girls I live with are able to afford health insurance. Luckily for me, the last time I got sick, I was on vacation in Canada. The doctor I saw explained that, in his country, they tax things that make you sick, like cigarettes, alcohol, soda and fast food. He called this a "sin tax" and suggested, rather smugly, "Maybe if you did this in America, you could afford to give every one health insurance." I don't know if he was under the impression that a 23-year old bookstore employee had much say in national health care policy, or if he was just being condescending, but I was too grateful for the care I received to really mind the lecture.
I know proposing something like "sin tax" would be horribly unpopular here. While I may find it perfectly logical to increase the tax burden of those who themselves become burdens on the system through unhealthy behavior, I understand enough about human nature to know how difficult it would be to pass a tax on soda, for example. What about ending the government subsidies of corn and soy? Instead of punishing the taxpayer, we ought to end our outdated agricultural policies that discourage the small farmer and crop-diversity. This would help reduce the surplus of corn and soy derivatives that make processed food so cheap, discouraging consumption without actually taxing the least healthy foods.
But not all health care is about lifestyle choice. People get sick, people get injured, people have to have access to medical services, without the fear of financial ruin. I hope the summit helps pass the reform bill, and that it changes the way we approach health care. But I hope that those of us still waiting for real health care solutions won't be forgotten. It's more than politics, or even the long-term financial interest of our country. It is a matter of national pride. No one in America should suffer or die because they don't have enough money for treatment. No one in America should be bankrupt because they are sick. I hope one day we have a system our doctors can be smug about, even to Canadian tourists.