Health Insurance: Disempowering for Patients, Harmful for Herbalists & Healers
By Jess Hardin
Yes, I am among the millions of unassured Americans. Unassured by industry claims, administration promises and congressional intentions when it comes to health legislation. No, I am not one of the privileged, able to slap down multiple plastic cards and receive the kind of A-1 care reserved for the well insured, looking down my nose at the less fortunate. While our work and purpose includes healing others, my family and can’t get medical insurance even if we want it. We don’t qualify for existing state and federal health insurance because our land is considered an asset, and yet not anywhere near enough money comes in to pay the premiums on even the lousiest policy. It is a stretch for us to make small payments to a private subsidized clinic that serves our backwoods community, a wonderful doctor and staff who nonetheless lack the equipment to conduct many tests, and who have to refer their patients to the big-city hospital whenever the condition is serious or requiring surgery. I have heard people talk about “catastrophic illness” involving medical bills that lead to bankruptcy and ruin, but in my case there will be no such ruinous bills… I simply will not be getting the treatment when needed.
As a technically impoverished healing school, you might think we would be among the first to champion a new system of universal care. Not! The larger and more standardized a system is, the less personal, regional, flexible and adaptable it becomes. And as poorly managed as private enterprises of any kind can be, it is the official government run systems and programs that have the greatest potential for mismanagement and abuse. In the hands of bureaucrats, even something as seemingly benign as health care becomes a means for the observation, manipulation and control of a country’s citizens. Of all the so-called solutions, insurance co-ops make the most sense to me, so that participation is strictly voluntary, and its members get to vote on who directs it. But frankly, even the very concept of insurance seems largely absurd to me, unnatural and objectionable.
To begin with, the majority of people with health insurance will pay far more in premiums during the course of their lifetimes, than they would have spent direct-paying doctors. If that weren’t the case, the insurance conglomerates would be losing money instead of making the billions and billions of dollars in profits that they do. In addition, in an environment where there were no insurance companies, the costs of health care wouldn’t be nearly as high as they are now. Providers can charge the insurers more than they would individuals, leading to doctors ordering expensive and often unnecessary tests that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
A problem with the very concept of insurance itself, is that it tends to make people more dependent and less responsible. Kids sent out into the world with the insurance of a financial safety net tend to be more careless and cavalier than those teens and twenty-somethings who know they can’t count on their parents to pay for every mistake or bail them out of every jam. Similarly, people insured from childhood on have proven to increasingly focus on treatment after the fact, than they do on prevention. Subconsciously if not consciously, folks may feel less need to concern themselves with the effects of the foods they eat or the exercise they miss, when the believe they can always turn to a doctor to treat the heart disease and adrenal burnout their lifestyle choices may have caused. For the same reason, the longtime insured are also less likely to ever learn how to treat themselves, even when dealing with simple conditions that are easy to both diagnose and affect. They’re less likely to pay attention to their own bodily signs, to experiment with changes in the way they eat, to become familiar with herbal and other natural remedies, to seek advice from an experienced relative or midwife, or to visit and support community herbalists and natural healers.
If that weren’t enough, I am at a gut level repulsed by the very way in which insurance works. All my life I have done what many thought was impossible, doing things differently than others, taking extreme risks, following a dream with little money and little common sense, but also little self doubt and even less restraint. In essence, I bet on myself again and again, bet my life and belongings, even my future. I was all the more careful and tried all the harder exactly because there was no backup, no fallback plan and no net, knowing that I had placed everything I am and own on “myself” in the “first”… “to win.” It galls me even to be forced to pay car insurance we can’t afford every month, on a Jeep we drive less than ten miles to town and back, forced to bet our scarce funds on a game where I only get paid anything if I screw up and have an accident, or fail to notice some other driver screwing up in time to avoid the collision. There is something seriously wrong about a government threatening us with jail unless we participate in some profit-producing game, especially one in which the only way for us to win is to lose! And now they want to force me to pay for a health care arrangement where I get fewer benefits the better that I take care of myself, where I have to get sick or do something unaware and hurt myself in order to get any payback, and where I only win the lottery big if I come down with something serious, chronic and largely incurable.
We might better place our bets on our selves, on our driving abilities and the human body’s natural inclination towards health. That way we’re more likely to pay attention to how aware we are being on the highway, and on how our bodies feel as well as how we are treating them. It’s said that the worst thing that could happen this year is for the Congress to fail to pass on national health bill. It would indeed be tragic for some us with no other way to get the high dollar, high-tech help. On the other hand, doing nothing in the halls of Congress is always better than doing the wrong thing. And it may prove that those without sanctioned insurance plans may be most conscious, concerned and caring… the response-able, responsive ranks of the growing unassured.
(Jesse Wolf Hardin is codirector of the Animá Lifeways & Herbal School, with Kiva Rose: www.animacenter.org. Feel free to share and post this piece)