So, as you probably saw, there were plenty of posts on Facebook and all over the intarwebz regarding the Supreme Court decision to exempt Hobby Lobby from paying for insurance coverage for contraception, regardless of previous law and based on its owners’ religious values. As there are currently no prescription contraceptive methods available to men, this ruling will be a burden borne only by women who are unfortunate enough to work for companies who will take advantage of this ruling, in a country where we’ve decided that the best way to provide health insurance for people is through their employer, meaning that part-timers, the unemployed, and the underemployed, are all seemingly unworthy of health care. Enter the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to help the latter bunch of folks get the insurance that their benevolent employers did not see fit to provide them at all prior to the ACA requiring it of them.
And because I had just a few Sanity Watchers points left, I read a couple of the comments. That didn’t last long, because they were as ignorant as I expected, and I just really can’t deal with that much stupid. What surprised me most, though, I suppose, is that people really do not seem to understand how insurance works. Comment after comment talked about how they didn’t want to have to pay for someone’s this or that or the other, as if this payment were coming directly out of their pocket, or out of their tax dollars (which really don’t exist…we all contribute to OUR tax dollars).
Insurance is an unholy hybrid of gambling, socialized risk, and huge profiteering on both by insurance companies. All insurance operates on the basis that misfortune will befall us in life; you fear that misfortune, and bet your premium money that it will happen more often than it probably will, so that when it does, you are not bankrupted, homeless, or dead. The insurer bets that it won’t happen, and that they can collect a lot of your money in the meantime, knowing that you may have one or two misfortunes, but that ultimately they will come out ahead, unless your name is Job. It is the ultimate protection money scheme, and the Mob is just bummed they didn’t go whole-hog with a system they invented and become multinational gazillionaires in the process. Short-sighted, that.
But how this manages to work is that every single one of us who buys an insurance policy subsidizes every other one of us that buys a policy from the same company, because the chances that I’m going to the ER for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns at the same time you’re getting chemo for aggressive cancer and at the same time somebody else fell off a roof and broke his neck are slim. When I’m not spending my insurance money, it’s going to you, for your allergies. And that lady who is pregnant (even though I have never, and will not ever, use that benefit myself.) And that guy with the torn ACL. And that other person who is going through rehab for alcoholism. And yet others who are getting help for their mental illness. I get that’s how it works, and I’m fine with that. It’s the same thing with Social Security. It’s the same thing with taxes. It’s the same thing with banking. We all agree, as part of the social compact, to chip in to something because we think it’s important, and we know it will be there when we need it, even if we don’t need it today, or ever. I’m never going to need smoking cessation coverage, but I’m good with it being there for people who do smoke. Because it’s better for their health, and it’s less expensive to pay for that than to pay for cancer or emphysema treatment. Sooner or later, we’ll each have our turn under the wheel, and we’ll need it.
The actuaries tell us that for the most part, though, we’re okay most of the time, and there will be plenty of money in the pool to not only pay for the minority of people who are sick at any given time, but also to simultaneously pay huge salaries to administrators and profits to shareholders. I pay $300 every month for health insurance, out of my own community property pocket, since I am no longer employed. However, the bulk of my personal health care, which comes in the form of chiropractic and myofascial release therapy, is not covered by my insurance, and it also comes out of our pocket. There are years on end where I do not use $3600 of insurance-covered health care, and the whole insurance industry relies on people like me who make this bet: That I’d better pay for insurance just in case something really bad happens to me, even though I know, and the insurer knows, that it probably won’t. And if I win my bet, that sucks for me, and the insurer is bummed it not only does not get to keep what I put in, but will have to pay out more on my bet, and they hate that. Which is why they deny payment all the damn time, because they’ve gotten used to keeping our money to the point that they think it’s their right.
So when Hobby Lobby claims it shouldn’t be required to cover contraception, what it means is that they want to buy a policy for their employees wherein the prescription drug and gynecological benefits it includes do not include contraception. This is an exemption that has already been given to religious organizations and faith-based non-profits. But Hobby Lobby is neither. They’re a corporation, and corporations generally provide access to health insurance, because that’s how it’s set up in this country. In all my working life, I never had to pay for my own insurance premiums; my employers have always paid single-coverage premiums. But this is a benefit many do not get. My mother actually works in health care, and while her employer provides access to health insurance, she pays for it herself. And I know plenty of folks who “get insurance through work” that pay for it themselves. So regardless of the putative religious beliefs of their employers, the fact of the matter is, those employers don’t pay a cent towards anything these people use their health insurance for. The argument that they are potentially harmed by being “forced” to pay for health services that conflict with their deeply-held religious beliefs is ridiculous. Very often they aren’t paying for a damn thing.
For those lucky enough to have their premiums covered by their employer, it is important to remember that that is considered part of your compensation. You’ve worked for those benefits as surely as for your salary, and if the company didn’t pay for your health insurance, it would have to make it up on the salary side. Therefore, that money is yours, and you’re STILL paying for your own health insurance, even if your employer is the only one that writes a check. To whom they write the check is irrelevant, really.
So every time someone says, “I shouldn’t have to pay for your abortion, or your pills,” I just kind of want to slap them, because a) you’re not paying for those things one iota more than you ever did as an insurance participant, and your burden is shared with every single other insurance participant, and b) you don’t get to pick and choose what you pay for when you’re dealing with pooled resources. Maybe I don’t want to help pay for your kid’s complicated measles treatment because you’re an anti-vaxxer. Maybe I’m not thrilled about helping you pay for your injuries due to your own drunk driving. That’s just too bad for me, because that’s not how this works. (And besides, I’m not an asshole who thinks that your poor judgment should be consequenced with a death sentence for your child or yourself.) We all pay in. We all take out as we need, and that need is determined by ourselves and our medical professionals. And participation in the pool IS taking responsibility, because we’re pack animals, and this is how we take care of the pack. We all do better when we ALL do better.
There is not enough room here, (or patience in me–it is exhausting, not to mention egregiously insulting, to continually have to assert your valid, autonomous humanity in the face of vast swathes of people still questioning it) to take on the whole vast misogynistic angle of this decision today, but on the question of what is being paid by whom, I will say this: I would rather contribute to birth control and abortions to the end of time than to the pregnancy expenses of someone who doesn’t want (or isn’t fit) to be a parent, or the ER visits of the children who are abused and neglected by said reluctant parent. Not only because it’s less expensive (since folks are so worried about what they’re supposedly paying for), but it’s more humane. Not that anyone else cares that much about being humane, but I do.
But what I want is irrelevant, and what the owners of Hobby Lobby want should be irrelevant, too, because they are a for-profit corporation, not a person. People hold religious beliefs, and I’m pretty sure not everyone working for Hobby Lobby across the country shares identical religious beliefs with the owners who brought this case. And in this case, and in my opinion, the Supreme Court erred in further cementing corporate personhood, which they themselves established, and so, legally, this decision was inevitable. They opened this door with Citizens United. If a corporation has one first amendment right, it’s going to have all of them. They set their own precedent with this one, and I’m not naive enough anymore to believe that wasn’t their intention all along, the ultimate goal being a government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.
It never ceases to astonish me that that as a population, we imagine ourselves so independent, so self-sufficient, so free from any social responsibility for one another, even as we live our entire lives in society, and reap the benefits of communal effort, planning, and resources every single day. This pretty picture in our heads of ourselves as a nation of bootstrappers is nothing more than cherished fantasy. If we very seriously and dedicatedly eschewed the blessings of community effort, of indeed, communism as it is practiced in a million of the purest active (versus ideological) ways when we live together in groups, most of us would not be able to leave our driveways, because it was the community that built the road in front of our homes, and the other roads that take us where we want to go. And that’s just for starters. We talk a lot about how no one should be forced to do anything they don’t want to, and any infringement upon one’s individual preferences for the greater good is an attack on this perverse understanding of what “freedom” really means, and therefore intolerable. Which is basically the mentality of a 3-year-old who doesn’t want to take a nap s/he desperately needs and is good for not only her, but the whole family. And on this, our 238th birthday as a nation, I’m convinced we are capable of better.