We, The Americans, like to think we’re in this world together — United We Stand, Divided We Fall — but in reality, we know in our bones we are not equal. We understand the separatist One Percenters own 99% of us, and we live only to mew when asked for a response from our monied overlords.
However, there was a time in the history of this nation, not too long ago — when the system could be exploited for the grander benefit of the few against the many — and that moment in time was the early 1980s.
A New York Playwright friend of mine told me a 1980s story when he was young and pretty and living high in New York City when the ordinary Artist could still have a reasonable place to live in Greenwich Village and life below 14th Street was actually quaint and right and truly Bohemian in all the right ways.
In the Summer, the Broadway shows would gather together in Central Park and play a friendly game of softball.
The “Broadway Softball Summer League” was all about fun and community and sharing — up to a point. Not every Broadway show had a large enough cast to field an entire softball team, so they’d ask their theatre friends — Ringers! — to come and help fill in vital spots on the roster.
Those softball Ringers were usually associated with the theatre in some tangential way, but they were brought in specifically because they were softball monsters and talented players and they could slug the ball into Long Island City from Manhattan.
My friend was one of the Monster Ringers. He could hit and field and he had a cannon for an outfield arm.
In the heat of stealing second base during a sweltering Broadway League game in the middle of July, my friend slid too hard and broke his forearm.
He had a nasty compound fracture that would require surgery and screws to fix and my friend, a starving Playwright — who was actively teaching at many universities in New York City — had no insurance, because in those Good Old Bad Days, adjunct teaching was “at will” Wild West work and you were non-unionized and if anything went wrong with you beyond the classroom, it was your burden to pay your own way even though you were barely earning enough to make a portion of your rent a month.
As my friend writhed on the ground and bleeding bones with his ulna sticking out of his skin, everyone around him knew what need not be spoken — he had to go to the emergency room and have surgery — but without insurance, that broken arm was going to bankrupt him and his family.
After a moment, one of the other Ringers — a big bear of a guy who wrote plays but who also worked on Wall Street and had excellent, employer-paid, health insurance — stepped forward and offered my friend his insurance card and said, “Let’s go, I’ll drive you to the hospital.”
In the early 1980s — perhaps the heyday of unofficial socialized medicine — you could hand your insurance card to someone of the same sex and they could turn and use that card to get treatment. No doctor or hospital asked for ID, or a biometric palm scan — the only thing that mattered was if you had access to coverage or not, and the insurance card was the golden key to rightful, socialized, healthcare.
Even though there were no data records back then — the world ran on paper — the friend who offered his medical card pretty much understood he would not be able to get coverage on his same arm that my friend broke because there was a small chance they’d be found out and prosecuted for insurance fraud, but the guy took a calculated risk that if he did break that same arm arm, it would probably be a couple of years down the road and nobody would know the difference if he used a different doctor and hospital.
For an afternoon in July, my friend became his friend, and got his arm surgically fixed and set in a hard cast. The emergency room told him to come back in six weeks for a checkup and to get the cast removed.
Eight weeks later, my friend cut the cast off his arm, had the arm checked by friends were in the medical field and proclaimed himself fit for duty: “Playwright Health Thyself!”
In the end, everything worked out perfectly for my friend — even though the system was technically exploited — or was it?
If we actually believe we are in this together, and if we already have Medicare and Medicaid as single payer healthcare options — should it matter who receives the medical care if the care is paid for upfront?
Obamacare is purposefully front loaded with healthy young people who pay into a system they’ll likely not need for a long time and the older and the injured will take more out than they pay into the system.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
Sure, the capitalists among us will rail against the exploitation of a healthcare system that is created — not to cure, but to exclude and to stratify — and that’s actually what’s still wrong with Obamacare: Coverage is not whole cloth or equal or equitable. Some may ask, “What difference does it make?”
For my friend, getting his arm surgically repaired and set made all the difference in the world.
All men may be created equal, but all bones are not.