Ruidoso, New Mexico, USA
June 11
Executive Director
NM Organized Against Trafficking Humans
Executive Director, New Mexico Organized Against Trafficking Humans (NM-OATH) Raised in the New Mexico mountains, I have traveled throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. My work has included a hodgepodge of many trades, including coordinating lobster bakes in Portland, Maine, working as grant writer for a narcotics unit in New Mexico, teaching at a local university, and living in Lugano, Switzerland where I served as Assistant Dean of Students for a small American college. I hold an MA in International Relations, and a PhD in the field of archetypal psychology.

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MARCH 17, 2010 12:51PM

Health Insurance Fig Leaves Stitched by the Emperor's Tailor

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 Published March 18, 2010 on Huffington Post

In 2006, my dear, beautiful sister died of misdiagnosis and insurance profiteering . . . plain, simple, and everlasting.   My Huffington Post article, “Gayle’s Death:  Lovelace Insurance Profit #1067678-00", inspired complete strangers to send me their stories.

They are the stories of health consumers who are insured . . . stories of doggedly dedicated premium payers whose claims, for so long, never extended beyond those illnesses requiring more than the top ten most common prescriptions.  “Don’t mess with my insurance!”  They’ve long defended what appeared to be a smooth-as-glass relationship with their insurer. “I’ve NEVER had any problems!” Before . . . Until . . . . They are stories of those who learned the sad way that they’d been cruelly played.

Blue cross of faith . . . blue shield of protection.  Symbolism reaches deeply into the psyche, and on the worst of days, faith and fear are cynically and deliberately exploited for profit.   The consumer, long conditioned to respond to symbolic associations, too easily succumbs to profiteers ruthlessly tapping the instinct of blind faith in anything powerful and protective enough to serve as a coat of armor against ills and plagues. 

Well, please be smarter than to have your faith exploited.  Pull your head out into the thinking knock-knock world!  The American health insurance consumer is the ultimate mark – the pigeon.  Consider for a moment the notion that perpetuating a mass belief in secure coverage is the strategic foundation of the health insurance company.  It’s the fig leaf, the modest coverage thinly veiling “barely possible,” as my grandmother used to say.  It’s the necessary bit – the hook.  Insurance covers these essentials, because, of course, otherwise, people might LOOK.  It would be a bit too appallingly evident if one’s basics weren’t covered. 

A successful scam relies on testimonials, so, of course, salted throughout public discourse, we hear anecdotes of heroic coverage.   It’s a convincing illusion; you pay a premium in return for promissory documents.  Far cheaper than a non-profit system, you’re told.  Sign here.  It saved the Joneses.

While each story starts with the buy in, “I thought I was covered,” people increasingly discover that their faith has been exploited, and the rest of the wardrobe is designed by the Emperor’s tailor.  Like my sister, those who test their coverage find that as one wheels oneself into deeper weeds and higher costs of critical care beyond those climates where a fig leaf will do, one can’t help but notice the chill.  There’s no protection from blowflies, Tussock grass, and thinning air.  You, the consumer, are high in the tundra away from Fig-leaf-ville . . . underdressed, under-covered, and exposed to the elements of a system purporting to care and provide.  Faith has been spent on a false god.

You are not only a victim of your illness, but you are a victim of your insurance company.   You have an illness and despite your long history of paying into the system, your insurance rejects your claims in order to expand corporate profits.  Your money, their profits – not your health. Simultaneously, your high health bills compensate for the truly uninsured – those who, sans figurative fig leaf, must shamefully, as a last resort, beg for care at our emergency room doors.  In the face of all of this, the victims vigorously protect their abusers in a politically collective case of Stockholm Syndrome. 

Yet despite mounting evidence, the intellectually disingenuous blather from within the warm pockets of the health industry, and the gullible deniers soak it up.  The snake oil barker waxes on about the sins of socialism, the damage single-payer coverage would do to the free market, and the dissolution of our very-effective-best-in-the-world coverage.  They hawk that if we address intrastate competition and those pesky preexisting conditions, this will demonstrate the fine silky textures of our beautiful warm health coverage.   After all, the pockets are warm . . . for them.   Pay no attention to the shivering patient in the tundra – have another look at this very fine product that will keep you safe.

Well.  Please get it.  Get that your loved ones are no safer than those of us who have learned the hard sad way. Understand that your insurance is a fig leaf.  Understand that when you or your loved ones REALLY get sick, being insured is only a fig leaf away from being uninsured.  Understand that regardless of whether you are sick or well, you are casting your money at insurance and health provider profiteers. 

Why do we accept this logic: “It will cost too much to care for our ailing loved ones, so we must continue to put money in other people’s wallets.”  Put differently, “Instead of paying this money for real clothes, I will pay exorbitant prices to swindlers for little to nothing – the kind of clothing that covers, costs money.” 

Really, why pay?  Let the insurance executives wail into their beer – “where have all the fig leaves gone.”  Put your premiums under the mattress.  At least it’ll be there when someone you know needs it – or when we wise to the swindle, eliminate the profit motive, and actually CARE for our suffering brothers and sisters.  But, we won’t …. because sometimes, we welcome the coverage of the fig leaf.  It blocks the breeze against our unmentionables, and it’s something.

Perhaps my point will be more memorable for the use of a whimsical metaphor, but this issue is no laughing matter.  Not when you’re sick, or watching a loved one die, or casting their ashes in a canyon.

There are many of us in the tundra, watching loved ones suffer, and even die, at the cold killing hands of their insurers.  Yet, from the warmth of Figville, there’s everyone else.  From the littlest Fig to the top of the Hill, there are those who speak clarity and truth to power, there are fig-leaf clad deniers, and there are the health insurance tailors, promoting their agenda for profit in the guise of providing care.   It’s as simple as that.  So which are you?  Wise up.  Call “Bull$hit” on those shoddily tailored fig leaves.  Their little “Made in America” tags put us to shame, at the very least.


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Quite right. This is no laughing matter. Some seem to want to take even the fig leaf away and the barely possible along with it. Some on the edge of the tundra itself are too terrified to let themselves believe that they are where they are. I understand that terror and I understand denial. I can not understand that anyone would try and manipulate truth in order to leave so many stark naked with no johnny and no gurney to find our way through illness without any cross and without any shield.

I wish for so much more than the reform that might possibly pass, but if nothing passes, then shame on all who will have fought to bring reform down.

A powerful piece. Thanks Travellini.
As always, cogent, witty, disturbing, and -- not to abuse the adjective -- powerful stuff.
Well Cuz, here is another fine piece that is full of metaphor and I so love it! And it is more truthful in its artistry than some would like to think. Heathcare, and I have said it before, has become a four-letter word. How many times and in whose ears must we whisper that the emperor's tailors are are not putting one shred of "clothes" on our backs, they are putting on our backs the debt, the angst, the horror of illness and all the rest of the ugly, inhuman things they have thought up to increase profits and deny basic rights to decent care after paying so very much.
Great piece. Thank you so much!
The only people happy with our present system are those who've never had to use it.
Oooh! I hate it but I think Tom is quite right. God help us all.
Before I had a blog here, I used to write occasional essays at my home site. One was on health care reform, offering a kind of libertarian approach in which I pointed out that one cost-free thing we could and should do is eliminate pooling by statute. A company wanting to offer coverage should not be able to offer preferential pricing for one person over another. Sure, for one coverage over another, but not one buyer over another. That's not the way markets are supposed to work. My article goes into more detail, but one of the punch lines is this: “Insurance used to be about a simple proposition: No one knew who was going to get sick, so everyone paid into a single big pool, and whoever got sick got the money. But increasingly, insurance has become a science in which the insurance company makes it its business to know precisely what each individual will cost and charges each individual precisely that amount (plus a profit markup, of course).”
Oops, I got so caught up quoting, I only made half my point. My point is that once they are charging the precise cost that it will cost us anyway, plus a markup, the money under the bed will seem like quite a bargain. No markup.

Anyway, great piece. Thanks for writing it.
Kent, I found it interesting that tonight, Keith Olbermann suggested that we go on an insurance strike, though of course, who would dare? I have also been thinking that despite the promise to eliminate pre-existing conditions, what's to stop the insurer from saying, "we are happy to cover your pre-existing condition ... and here's the husky you've-had-too-many-accidents-already premium for that service.

I guess the value of the money under the bed will depend on whether the average person will be charged $4.00 for gauze, or $400 for the same gauze.

Annaliese - thanks for your thoughts - you have some particularly keen insights into this issue and as always, your passion fuels those insights. I think you need to write a health care post called, "No Johnny, No Gurney!"

Tom - thanks for the read - that's the thing - people don't realize they are being screwed, and I've been thinking that there is a pattern of conservative issues for which the principles of Stockholm Syndrome would apply. Guarding corporate personhood, for a start.

Patience - thanks cuz! Too strange that people are so viciously snarlingly protective of the garbage status quo. "I defend your right to heap crap on me, and I love it because other people hate it!!" Can't wait for educational reform to start!
Very good points. I decided to check out your Open Salon blog after your comment on HuffPo and I'm glad I did. rated.