By Jill Richardson
Our country is founded on a myth that anyone can succeed so long as they work hard.
That’s the story of Alexander Hamilton that has swept Broadway: how a “bastard orphan” can become “a hero and a scholar.” According to the lyrics he did it by working harder, being smarter, and being a self-starter.
If that’s all you need to do to succeed, then it’s your own fault if you’re poor.
And White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has no sympathy for you. If you’re sad the Republican health care bill is going to take away your Medicaid, she says – and it will – you can go get a job. Because your poverty is your own fault.
The reality isn’t as nice. We don’t live in a society where anyone can get ahead just by working hard. It might feel that way if you grew up middle class, but that’s not the reality millions of Americans live in.
Sociological research confirms this unpleasant truth again and again.
As for the people on Medicaid who should just “get a job,” odds are they already have a job. Maybe two jobs.
We as a society want people working in restaurants, cleaning our hotel rooms, checking us out and stocking shelves at stores, and doing any number of low-skilled, generally low-wage jobs. Some people even oppose giving those workers a raise because it would either cut into corporate profits or raise prices.
Well, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t benefit from low-wage labor while simultaneously blaming low-wage workers for their own poverty.
And if you’re truly callous enough not to care if the working poor have access to affordable health care, consider how their plight affects you.
Suppose for a moment that 22 million Americans lose their health care, which is what the Congressional Budget Office predicts if the Senate passes the Republican health care bill. What happens?
Those 22 million people no longer go for preventative check ups. They don’t treat medical problems when they occur, before the problems get worse. They wait until they have no choice, and they go to the emergency room.
If they cannot pay the bills accrued at the emergency room, the hospital eats the cost. But hospitals must balance their budgets somehow, so they raise prices for everyone else.
If you’re insured, then you’re not paying the hospital directly, so the higher prices go to your insurance company. And they pass it on to you in the form of higher premiums.
Thus, if you aren’t moved by the human suffering caused by depriving the working poor of health care, perhaps you’ll be moved by your own pocketbook.
Unless emergency rooms start declining treatment to anyone who can’t pay, turning cancer patients and gunshot victims onto the streets to die, somebody is going to pay for the care of the uninsured.
The question is whether they’ll be able to go for preventative check-ups and treat problems early, or whether they’ll go to the emergency room after they can no longer avoid it.
For those who rely on Obamacare for their insurance – myself included – the prospects of losing their health care is terrifying. I have several friends with cancer who are literally afraid they will die if the repeal bill passes. And that’s not hyperbole.
It’s time we stopped telling ourselves that anyone who’s struggling only has themselves to blame.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.”