San Pedro, California
Squeezing the last few ounces of diesel into my tank at the Travel America fuel island in Redding, California I heard a voice ask, Have you heard the latest on Obamacare?
I spun around. It was just after sunrise in April last year, not a lot of light, to see if the owner of the voice was talking to me. He was. From the next fuel bay.
No, I haven’t, I replied, peering at him through the fuel pumps. He appeared to be a company driver, not an owner-operator.
“Obama wants people to stand in line to see doctors,” he said. “I don’t have time to stand in line, I need an appointment.”
“For a lot of people that will be an improvement over what they have now – nothing,” I said.
“You think healthcare is a right,” he said.
A statement. Not a question. He turned back to cleaning his windshield.
Healthcare was and continues to be one of the hottest topics among truck drivers. Company drivers itching to be Owner Operators call into the trucking Business and Beyond on satellite radio’s Road Dog Trucking network. They’re bluntly told that they better have health insurance through their spouse because they won’t be able to afford it otherwise.
The business show promotes Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Health Savings Accounts are insurance plans used by businessowners and professionals. They have a low monthly fee and a yearly high-deductible. Plan owners make a deposit into the HSA, $6,150 this year for a family, they get a tax deduction and pay for their medical services from this savings account.
Money deposited into the HSA can be kept in an interest-bearing savings account or invested. The affluent have found that this is a good, additional investment tool. They deposit the yearly allowable amount into the HSA, deduct it from their income tax and then invest the money for the future rather than use it to pay for small procedures.
We have an HSA. We call it the hit-by-a-bus health plan. It cost us $249.05 a month for the privilege of holding a $10,400 deductible – for the first year. In other words, we must pay the first $10,400 out of our pocket before the coverage starts. This appeals to anti-government involvement folks because they believe we will make better choices if we’re responsible for our own healthcare. On Road Dog Trucking, they say with confidence that the insurance company takes care of the rest. But there are no guarantees. The fine print says that “most” procedures “may” be covered. For-profit insurance companies, health, vehicle and property make money by NOT paying claims.
A year after that fuel pump exchange, the government assuring us there is no inflation our health insurance premium has skyrocketed – UP about 18 percent to $290.99 a month. For nothing, absolutely NOTHING. We asked for no care, we received no care. We made no claim. Humana One received $2,988.60 in one year for NO service rendered.
The chorus among truckers against the healthcare legislation is growing again as we approach the mid-term elections. Kill the bill, they say. For the record, I fear the legislation passed will result in an even larger mess than currently exists. The only winners, the health insurance companies.
So is health care a right? That really is the key question in this debate. Driving 600 miles a day gives me much time to think about weighty issues.
I tell my fellow drivers that I see healthcare as a dividend.
As a citizen I invest in my country every day. America is another name for USA Inc. My country is also my company. We, the citizens, invest money through taxes, and we invest hard work, sweat equity.
We make this investment so that our nation grows and provides for its citizens. When America is prosperous, we are prosperous.
Shouldn’t we, the shareholder citizens receive a tangible reward when that investment grows? Shouldn’t we, the shareholder citizens, without whom this country could not would not grow, shouldn’t we directly participate and be rewarded for that success?
This is why citizens become shareholders of publicly traded companies. When an individual invests in a stock, she is putting her hard earned, after-tax money into a company because she feels there will be growth, she will see positive results and she will be rewarded.
There are two ways that companies reward their investors, their shareholders for their faith (the investment version of hard work). Shareholders receive a dividend, cash or the opportunity to buy more stock, which provides income. Or there is an increase in the stock price, and the extra cash is realized when the shares are sold.
Healthcare, education and infrastructure should be citizen dividends. These services are what government should provide to its citizen shareholders as a reward and a re-investment to continue our growth and prosperity as a country.
When I explain this to fellow truck drivers, the react like they’ve been sucker punched. They catch their breath, their eyes begin blinking, darting around, looking for familiar ground. They are thinking hard because my message is that healthcare is not a socialist-pinko plot. They are confused because my explanation uses capitalist words dividends, shareholders, investment.
America’s best companies were built on the understanding that they need to invest in their greatest assets – their workers, without whom they couldn’t grow and wouldn’t be profitable. But when you explain how national health care actually conforms with the capitalist structure – well, people just don’t know how to respond. Instead of asking questions, discussing, they simply change the subject.
We may not like the system we have, but we’re not ready to break the mold.