It’s not an easy thing to make someone as generally left-leaning as me feel like a conservative. But I’ve got to give some credit to Senator Max Baucus here. Congratulations, Senator, you have made me feel a connection with the right wing like I haven’t felt in years. And all it took was the decision to levy a new tax in your health care proposal that goes straight to the insurance companies. 13%, in the current proposal. Although thanks to recent pressure, Baucus now says he wants to try and reduce that to 12% or below. Gee golly willickers, Mr. Baucus…that one percent reduction in money being funneled straight out of my pocket to a private insurance company really makes it better. I’m much more supportive now. <cough cough> It just makes me feel so much better. <hack hack>
The conservative movement tends to get motivated to battle every time new taxes are suggested. Personally, I don’t. Yes, I think taxes suck. Anyone who pays them cannot deny that it sucks every time you have to write that check, or click that “submit payment” button each year. And yet, I am a realist. I understand that, as much as it sucks, the things that we ask government to do have to be paid for somehow, and I have to be a part of that payment.
In general, people start talking about taxes with the “family of four” option. Let me begin by saying that I cannot speak to the situation in which a family of 4 finds themselves, because I’m not a family of 4. I’m a single individual, living and working (as much as I can) in Los Angeles. As a 29 year old individual, I have very few friends who are families of 4. Most of them are, if anything, dealing with child number 1. And I don’t make the 300 percent above poverty level to put myself into the 13% tax level in Sen. Baucus’ proposed plan. But, much like Joe the Plumber, I hope to make that much in the next few years. Unlike Joe the Plumber, that’s a fairly attainable goal. It would mean increasing my yearly income by about $8,000. That’s pretty attainable by most standards, especially considering my age and position in the industry I am in.
That being defined, let’s do the math. The federal poverty level for a single individual is $10,300. Baucaus’ plan suggests taxing those at 3 times that by 13%. 3 times $10,300 is $30,900. 13% of $30,900 is $4017. The most expensive plan with Kaiser/Permanente, which has no deductible, includes prescription coverage, and has small co-pays is $216/month. That comes to $2,592/year. Under Baucus’ proposal, I would be paying $1,500 more per year directly to an insurance company. Yes, I said directly to the insurance company. The 13% tax cannot be used for deductibles or co-pays. Which brings us to the area I find myself connecting with conservatives right now. I don’t mind being taxed. But when that tax is going directly into the coffers of a private corporation, I have a problem. That’s no longer a tax. It’s corporate robbery. No wonder insurance company stocks have been rallying over the last few days. Then, to add insult to injury, that tax is actually more expensive than what I could pay now. Isn’t the whole idea of health care reform to reduce the cost, not inflate it?
The other change Baucus is making to his bill is to increase subsidies on families below the poverty level so that they don’t have to pay the 3% he was asking in his first proposal. Sounds good, right? Until you look at what the “poverty level” is. $22,050 for a family of four. $10,300 for an individual. Look carefully at that number. When you have to start defining “poverty” in $50 increments, I think we have a problem. Dinner and a movie for two people costs more than $50. Yet if I make $22,100 for my family of four, that puts me over the poverty line. Gotta be at that $22,050 mark…that extra $50 apparently makes all the difference. But wait…let’s do the math again. If I’m a father of two, making $22,100, then 3% of my income is $663. Taking that away from me puts me back into poverty, by government definition. And if I’m an individual, making $10,3100 per year, then that 3% is $309, which again puts me into poverty when taken from my check.
All of this, however, begs to ask: could you live with a family of four on $22,050? I make around that as a single individual, and I struggle enough to pay my bills. I live with two roommates in order to offset housing costs. It’s still a struggle just to exist. If I made $22,050, my rent alone would be 36% of my yearly income, with roommates factored in. If I had no roommates, the 3 bed/2 bath apartment I’m in would cost $23,400 per year. For those who can’t figure it, that’s 6% more than the $22,050 poverty line for a family of four to live in a place that gives each child their own room, with mom ‘n dad taking the master. Willing to make the kids room together? Average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment here is $1,416. That’s still 82% of yearly income if you make $22,050/year. To force people who are in that position to pay anything out of pocket in order to get health insurance is, quite frankly, so disconnected from reality that I have to wonder exactly what it is that Sen. Baucus is smoking.
So why force people at that level of poverty to have health insurance? Simple. If we don’t, then they end up in the emergency room, uninsured, when Dad gets sick with the flu and has to miss work (’cause if it’s Jr. that gets sick, we’re probably already paying for him through SCHIP). And since they can’t pay, those of us with insurance do. That seems to be one of the least understood or at least talked about points in the health care debate. What we have is three basic choices: either make sure that these people are insured through some kind of public option that, while not the quality of care that a Wall Street executive gets*, is still enough to provide basic care so that they can call a doctor and schedule an appointment when Dad gets sick; pay higher insurance premiums so the hospital can find some way to balance their books when someone comes into the ER (remember: emergency rooms are prohibited by law from denying medical care to anyone because of lack of insurance. They just tack it onto the bills of those of us with insurance. Next thing you know, our premiums are growing at rates far greater than our paychecks, and we end up cash poor because our insurance premiums are rising so quickly while our salaries remain stagnant); or drop the laws requiring treatment, allow people to go uninsured and untreated, and let people die because they couldn’t afford medical care. Yes, it really is that simple. You don’t want to read stories in the paper or hear about people dying because they didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford medical care? Be prepared to pay for it, one way or another. Because if they can’t, someone has to.