Back in December, I ran over to a local business, Gallimaufrey Gallery, to shop for Christmas presents for my wife. I've known Michael and Pat, the lovely couple who own it, for years-- they were regulars at a barbecue place I waitered at in the early and mid-nineties, and are regulars at the place I work at now.
They sell art and jewelry produced by artisans in the United States and internationally. And like many small business owners, they were spending an enormous amount of their income on health insurance. In December, when I bought some yuletide baubles for my wife at their store, they told me that Unicare, who'd provided that overpriced insurance, had been their healthcare provider. I knew from the local news that Unicare was pulling out of Illinois. They were at their wit's end. Being over fifty, they tried AARP's insurance. However, since the wife has rheumatoid arthritis, a "pre-existing condition," even that avenue was blocked. Back in December, we talked about the prospects of healthcare reform, and how they had already pretty much spending their entire income on health insurance as it was.
Last night, when news that healthcare reform had passed, they were the first people I thought of. Today, since it was sunny and not too cold, my wife and I went for a walk to Lincoln Square, the commercial strip near our home where Gallimaufrey is located. We shopped at a new market on the square and stopped into Gallimaufrey.
The husband was there, the wife having run off to a yoga class. Immediately, I could tell that he had a sense of relief and elation. I discovered that they had managed to procure Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage, undoubtedly at a high cost, and his wife was going to be able to get the knee replacements she badly needed, and the long follow-up care she'll need. He talked about the hope of subsidized coverage-- they have been hammered by the weak economy as badly as everybody else-- and how happy he was when he'd heard the news last night.
When I read about the Tea-Baggers who hurled racist and homophobic epithets at members of Congress, it reminded me that there's a really vile undercurrent to their venom-- there's a racism and a feeling that this is some kind of handout to the undeserving poor. As someone who is training to be a nurse, I can give you an earful about how much the lack of access to affordable healthcare is costing us in dollars, let alone the well-being of people. I'll save it for another time. What I will point out right now is that a large percentage of the 30 million people who will suddenly have access to affordable healthcare will be small business owners who have found themselves increasingly squeezed over the last couple of decades. Bless President Obama for not giving up on this. I'm thankful to have a president who not only looks out for the interests of myself and the rest of the working stiffs, but has the intelligence and drive to make those things happen. The health care package might not be perfect in everyone's eyes, but it's nice to know that people who have spent years building a business won't have to fold it because they can't afford health insurance.