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A Reasonable Ask 

Why can't we have affordable healthcare, America?

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I place another log in the wood stove, sit down at my dining table, mug of hot coffee at my fingertips. The fire puts out a steady warmth. Windows fill three of the four walls of this great room and I wonder if the light leaking out from my lamp bothers the neighbors. I always worry about this when I'm up before the sun, which is most days, all days in the winter. I flip through my Instant Pot cookbook looking for something to do with all the sweet potatoes I brought home. I find an idea but will need to pop over to Target for a steam basket. So far, I've taken advantage of the morning's promise by meditating (or trying to — I'm still terrible at quieting the mind), folding and stretching my body to a yoga video for 15 minutes and, now that the sweet potato problem may be solved, opening my laptop to write.

Living the dream, some would say — and that's true. Certain aspects of my life remind me daily how lucky I am, how even with all the effort I've put in, landing where I have is due at least partly to luck. Landing where any of us have is due at least partly to luck. Circumstances of birth, genes, whether or not opportunities come one's way — comfort can depend on as little as geography, skin color and whether one arrived in the world with a brain and/or body built for success along traditional paths.

To believe that everyone everywhere should have access to warm, quiet mornings — even to believe that everyone should have a home and food to eat — feels bold in these times. Lacking resources, thousands of people live on the streets, under overpasses, in the bushes, in their cars. Per our country's policies, refugees are shoved into tent cities on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Homeless people are dying in record numbers and those fleeing violence from elsewhere are finding death and misery here. Some have given up their own comforts in efforts to subvert the crisis but, for most of us, the sadness is but one more in a long list of headlines that we hope an election will change for the better.

To sit in a house warmed by a fire safely contained in a lovely wood stove, to have a functional body warmed and woken up by whole bean coffee ground and leisurely brewed via pour-over, to have food waiting in the kitchen and a rewarding job awaiting as soon as I quit writing and open my email, to have a kind husband sleeping upstairs and three children who, despite everything, are alive and reachable — who could have any complaints?

And yet.

Look, gratitude matters. Giving thanks acknowledges that life could have gone another way, that happiness and comfort are fragile. But radical progressive political nutjob that I am, I hold a conviction that — especially in a wealthy society — certain things should be part of everyone's life and not subject to luck. Perhaps we can't promise love and freedom from grief, but here's a list of what a fair, thoughtful society could ensure for all its people:

Clean water (hardly a universal offering, even in California)

Nourishing food (an idea that cutting food stamps in a country full of "food deserts" works against)

Shelter

Free public education (we are failing)

Parks, beaches, forests and other natural places for exploring and playing (see open space inequity)

Some sort of free, reliable news media (ughhhhhh)

Libraries! (they make everything better)

Healthcare, including mental health and dental care

Equality of opportunity to all the above

Crazy, right?

I don't understand why the Republican party delights in trying to take all these things away, I really don't. I mean, I get why extremely wealthy people whose fortunes are built on exploitation prefer to have a weak, ignorant and subjugated lower class and that racists are insane in their hatred. But what is the benefit to politicians to make sure their constituents can't afford to see a doctor, are required to suffer in ever-increasing pain through, for example, injuries, illness, depression, addiction, cavities?

I — again with the luck — have health insurance, including vision and dental. However, that plastic rectangle proclaiming me to be a part of Blue Shield's family doesn't do as much as one might hope. Especially if one has a janky knee and terrible genetics when it comes to her teeth. I'm still paying off the X-rays I was advised to get last year and canceled the MRI scheduled as a follow up because the former is costing me more than $600 and the latter will only happen when I can walk in with $800 in my pocket. My dentist, meanwhile, has advised me to get about $3,000 worth of crowns, root canals, bone grafts and I forget what else because my dental "insurance" covers next to none of it so why keep listening?

But even the little I have is more than my husband does. In fact, me landing a job with health benefits cost him his; Covered California will not offer subsidies if your spouse has health insurance through work despite the fact that we can't afford to add him to my coverage — and now can't afford Covered California. I guess as long as we can scratch up the cash for his inhalers and he never has any other health issues we'll be fine ... .

My older daughter finally managed to get on Medi-Cal only to find out that she can't get in anywhere because no one is taking new patients, especially with Medi-Cal. Open Door is, in fact, not.

My son is more fortunate in a way; because he was in the throes of ketoacidosis when diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child and Humboldt lacked appropriate specialists, the doctors sent him to University of California San Francisco Medical Center. This means he's had and has excellent medical care, despite being on Medi-Cal. Of course, he has to travel nearly 300 miles each way to get it, which means he doesn't always see the experts as often as he might if we had some here. And although he's been "lucky" that eventually the (life-giving) supplies arrive, the amount of time he spends making phone calls to pharmaceutical companies, to product manufactures, to the doctor, well, it's a part-time job in a good month. But at least he's not having to ration his insulin or dying from a lack of it. Yet. 

If the Republicans have their way, I don't know what we'll do.

The sky lingers dark through my many windows, although the night has faded enough to reveal the eucalyptus trees tossing in the wind. On cue, the neighbor's rooster crows. To the east, a line of open sky stretches just above the mountains, shifting from pale yellow to glimmering orange as I type. My mug is empty and more rain is coming, but right now dawn is poised to break. I should stop typing and get to work.

Jen Savage is a longtime mother and has spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors' offices. She prefers she/her pronouns.

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Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage

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