Herbietown - Obamacare in the Deep South

Obamacare in the Deep South

article346153_confederate-flagI talked about Obamacare with some real Southerners last night.

I mostly listened, figuring this would be a good chance to get inside the heads of some real conservatives. These were intelligent, well-educated people, the type who I thought would be least likely to just repeat what they heard on Fox News.

The overriding sentiment seemed to be that health care works just fine as it is. The conversation went something like this:

“If you can’t afford a doctor, you go to the emergency room. You still get health care. I don’t see why we need to change anything.”

“But then you get an enormous bill and you end up having to declare bankruptcy. Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that?”

“You don’t understand how it works. Listen, I didn’t have insurance when I was in my twenties. I hurt my hand and I went in to see a doctor and had him look at it. He said he could fix it but that I would need to fill out this paperwork and go see this doctor and all this nonsense. I said no, tell me how much it will cost for you to fix it right here, right now. We eventually agreed on $250.”

“And what if instead of needing a cortisone shot in your finger, you needed treatment for a serious disease, and you couldn’t afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars? Would you still feel the same way?”

“Look at my cousin, he had a brain tumor and he didn’t have insurance and he just went into the ER and they took care of him. Doctors and nurses and people that start hospitals – they don’t care about money – they just want to help people.”

The problem here is obvious. This guy doesn’t see that there is a problem when 45 million Americans don’t have health insurance. He sees nothing wrong with the ER solution, where sick people without health insurance just go into the ER to receive care, and end up declaring bankruptcy when they can’t pay their bills.

I explained that bankruptcy ruins your credit for 7 years and how difficult that would make it to get a mortgage. His response: “come on, these people couldn’t afford a house before they got sick.”

“These people.” I’ll come back to that in a minute.

He offered his own alternative to Obamacare: 2 systems. One would be for people who can afford health insurance and would be stocked with doctors and nurses and professionals who “care about making money.” The other would be a government system, with lower reimbursements and fewer service offerings, for people who can’t afford health insurance. It would be stocked with doctors and nurses and professionals who don’t care about money.

He likened it to education. Private schools for people who can afford it, and public schools for everyone else.

I asked him if he thought there should be a permanent upper class and a permanent lower class. He said no, that everyone should have the same opportunities but that there shouldn’t be extra artificial steps put in place for the privileged. Not sure what that meant.

There was a racial undertone to the conversation that is hard to describe. “These people,” he said. Maybe my imagination was running wild. But it seemed like this guy thought President Obama was trying to steal money from white people and give it to black people.

I hope I was wrong.

It may not have been a racial thing. But under the surface there was a real resentment to any kind of change that could undermine his position in society. I think that resentment is part of the Southern psyche. Let me explain.

140 years ago, southern white men could own other people. They ran plantations and lived a life of relative luxury. Then the intellectuals from the North protested and tried to get them to change their ways. So they rebelled. They lost.

Now, even a full 140 years later, every attempt to change society is an affront to their way of life. Even if they see the moral problem of slavery, they still resent being told what to do. And even if the proposed change will help them, like for example by protecting them from being denied care for pre-existing conditions. Any attempt to change things is an attempt to take away their freedom.

Is it worse when the proposed changes come from a black President? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m connecting dots that don’t exist.

It may not be a racial issue. But there is definitely a certain defiance that permeates Society down here in the deep South. It’s the same defiance that drives some people here to fly Confederate flags.

It is fascinating.