Thursday, November 19, 2009

One thing (among many) that concerns me about health legislation

The Senate today unveiled its version of legisilation for health care reform. Reid, the Majority Leader from Nevada, wants a vote by this Saturday which will not pass the bill, but allow for weeks of debate, amendments and then final passage. He may have problems getting even that, but we'll wait and see. There are indeed way too many controversial things in this bill, but one thing that I've yet to hear anyone talk about is for those who cannot get coverage.

Now, hear me out on this one. There is a public option in this bill but you will still have to pay into it like you would a premium through any private insurer. Now, if you cannot pay that, a government subsidy will be given to you which can cover a lot of the expense, but not all of it. The cost of not having insurance, whether private or through the public option, can result in fines or, assuming you do not have the funds to pay, jail time which can go up to five years. My question: what will happen to the homeless?

In this country, there are approximately 100,000 homeless families according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness not including veterans, abandoned chilren and other individuals. According to the HUD report for 2008 on homelessness, some 600,000 people were recorded as staying in homeless shelters. So, let's call the number at 1,000,000 people who are homeless right now. I'm sure it's probably even more with the number of people who have been adversely affected by the Obama wrecking of the economy.

These people have pretty much next to nothing. They don't have any assets. Is the government then going to provide them totally free health coverage at no expense? The homeless have medical needs just like the regular population and are more at risk due to lack of shelter, lack of nutrition, lack of adequate clothing, etc. Many of them, when they acquire money of any kind, buy drugs to feed a recurring habit. So, what's going to happen to these homeless?

If they cannot afford premiums for private insurance and even if they are given a subsidy from a public option which will not cover the entire expense, what's going to happen? They can't be fined since they have no money. So, are we going to put all of these homeless in our already overcrowded jails? Are we going to imprison the poor?

I can't believe that this question has not been asked especially by the Democrats who continually believe themselves to be champtions and the guardians of the homeless in this country. Is this a first step towards criminalizing poverty?

My questioning reminds me of an episode of Star Trek I saw. (Yes, I'm a Star Trek nerd). In season 3 of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, there was an episode where Commander Sisko and Dr. Bashir, in a transporter accident (yeah, I know, it's an old plot line) end up in mid-21st century America where things are very different. It's a depressed time economically and those who are unemployed are taken to "sanctuary districts" where they can be out of the way of people who work and our relatively successful. Dr. Bashir and Captain Sisko find themselves in one of these sanctuaries as they have no identification nor any money. I won't give away more of the episode, but the people that are put in there are not criminals, they are people just down on their luck. I know homelessness is not just about being "down on your luck."

Science fiction has always been a great medium to draw attention to the ills we as a society face. Star Trek has done this repeatedly since its inception as it was broadcast during the Vietnam War, Red Scare, Civil Rights movement, etc. I wonder if that particular episode of Deep Space 9 will turn out to be prophetic. I surely hope not.

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