A Real Conversation About Healthcare

As entertaining as the political happenings in American can be, it is easy to forget that the Red vs. Blue game has real implications. While politics has devolved into little more than reality TV, quite literally in the case of Trump, it contains something that shows like The Apprentice never have: reality.

Sure, we might get the occasional statistic regarding certain issues (approval ratings, etc), but the important questions are still to be begged, like: who are the real faces behind Trump’s America? I’m not talking about any Senator or Representative or cabinet pick or anyone else you might hear about in the media. I’m talking about ordinary folks like you and me; how are the decisions that are being made affecting all of us?

It is important that, every once in awhile, we are reminded that politics is real, despite what the cameras and media and news sources suggest. Leaders are making world-rending decisions on the behalf of ordinary, working class people everyday.

I feel that the most apt example of this desensitization of politics is in regards to the Affordable Care Act and its bleak future. It is an issue that the media has been feasting on: Republicans plan to repeal it and many are rushing to its defense, all before inauguration day.

As entertaining as Sen. Bernie Sanders bringing a giant poster of a Trump tweet to the Senate floor, despite the occasional statistics, the human aspect of the issue is lost.

So, on the eve of the inauguration, I decided to find a real, live common person with real life experiences, sit down and talk about it.

I immediately thought of Ouray local Bryan Williams, a progressive voter who was sure to be able to shed a human light on the issue.

Walking into the William’s home was warm and familiar, a feeling of amiability that was common around Bryan and his family. Immediately, I was greeted by family: his wife, Shannon, 8 year old daughter, Jenna, and two large, friendly dogs, Pumpkin and Cheyenne. Disney Channel played on mute in the living room, a scene that, in growing up with 3 younger sisters, I am well familiar with. Welcoming and comforting, it was an average Wednesday night in the William’s household, nestled against the mountains on Queen Street. It is in the living room, where a rerun of Liv and Maddie silently ran and Cheyenne and Pumpkin approached for pets, that I began the extreme pleasure of talking to Bryan.

Listen to the conversation:

Or read it in full here:

Evan Vann: Could you give the readers a little background about yourself before anything else?

Bryan Williams: We’re originally from the Dallas area. We moved here, to Ouray, 4 and a half years ago. I’ve spent my career in the mortgage baking business, and I currently am in a for credit union, doing mortgage loans, and my wife is the food director at the school. We can here for a better life, wanted to leave the city and the crowds. We wanted a slower pace of life and a higher quality of life as well, so we came out to Colorado, and it’s been working out for the most part.

Evan Vann: In brief conversation, you and I have discussed what your experience with healthcare has been like, if it isn’t too personal, would you mind elaborating on that for the readers?

Bryan Williams: Absolutely. Well in the past, before I moved here, I worked mostly for corporation kinda businesses, and so I usually had full and decent coverage, what people usually call the Cadillac plan. Obviously, that changed when we moved out here, because a lot of companies out here on the West Slope, and a lot of people in general don’t offer that kind of coverage. So, when we first moved out here, we didn’t really make enough money to afford private insurance, and we qualified for government aid, but only for a brief period of time. We both worked jobs that didn’t really provide healthcare and we didn’t make a ton.

I did eventually end up getting a job in Montrose at a financial institution which provided coverage. It wasn’t the best coverage, but it was a type of coverage. This is where we ran into a big issue, and this issue was that there were some loopholes in the Affordable Care Act. For all the good that it did, one of the biggest issue in my opinion was that when some of the problems and loopholes were identified there was no willingness to go back and fix it. Republicans wanted to throw it out, and Democrats weren’t intent on ironing out some of its flaws.

Our family got caught up in what was called the Family Coverage Loophole or some such. Essentially, my employer offered healthcare to my family, but at a ridiculously costly rate, something that few people could afford, basically a house payment is what it was. Just the offer of healthcare from my employer disqualified us from the ACA subsidies. A healthcare plan for my wife and daughter, which would have normally cost $200 or $300 a month ended up costing $800 or $900 a month with deductibles that were absolutely ridiculous. They offered me health insurance for free, but my wife and daughter didn’t have anything. It was like that for about a year; they went uninsured because we made an analysis of the trade off. We could either pay $800 for a plan we would probably never get to use, or risk paying out of pocket and hope that nothing bad happens.

I think people realized there were problems like this, but there was no will in Washington to actually fix things, so it just stayed that way and we got stuck this way.

Evan Vann: How have things changed with your coverage situation?

Bryan: The big change happened because of the fact that my wife obtained employment that offered her healthcare. Our daughter now gets covered by the program called CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Evan Vann: Right, our family uses CHIP for the kids too, it’s an easy program.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s one of those things where it goes from something you talk about on TV or radio to real life. It’s my understanding that CHIP came into place in the first Clinton administration where they were trying to reform the healthcare program. Obviously it didn’t work but one of the things they did push through was CHIP so that at least children were covered within a certain income bracket. It was something where we went “Oh, this is real, this really effects us. This exists to help us.” So that’s been a blessing.

Evan Vann: It’s my understanding that your experience with healthcare prompted you to become an advocate and volunteer for the ColoradoCare ballot measure that was on the ballot in 2016, do you care to elaborate on your experience with that?

Bryan: You know, when I look at these issue, I look at them in terms of what is a private good and what is a public good. Public goods, to me, are things that benefit all of society. Things like education and the military, we fund these things because we recognize that this benefits us collectively. I believe, and this is from my own experiences and just thinking about the issue, I believe that healthcare is a public good. It isn’t treated like that, but it should be. I mean, the government is already a major player in healthcare with medicare, medicaid, VA, CHIP, all these different programs. I believe very firmly that healthcare is a public good, so it’s obvious to me that we need to do like almost every other industrialized country has done and adopt a single payer system.

It just makes sense. In countries that already have it, you couldn’t pry it out of their hands. For America, it seems like the only way forward. I don’t know how long it will take, but eventually we have to come to terms with the fact that healthcare is a public good and it needs to be guaranteed. If you’re wealthy, or have a really good corporate job, then yeah our healthcare system is probably the best in the world for you, but if not, you’re gonna struggle.

I see people come into the bank day after day, and when I look at their credit reports I see page after page after page of medical collections because they’ve gone to the hospital or the doctor and down the road they get billed for whatever the insurance didn’t pay, be that blood work or any other aspect of a hospital visit and they’re just getting killed with these things. I don’t believe that’s a fair system.

Evan Vann: As you obviously know, Amendment 69 or ColoradoCare was a proposal to set up a singlepayer system in Colorado. As an advocate and volunteer, what are your thoughts on its defeat on the November ballot?

Bryan: I don’t think there’s the political will, from either Democrats or Republicans, to change the system. Democrats want to work with and manipulate the current system from within, and I don’t know what Republicans want to do, I don’t even think they know what they want to do. Both of them seem similar in the way that they don’t want to replace the current system.

When the biggest donors to the Democratic Party and Democratic politicians and Democratic thinktanks are active opponents of a singlepayer program, other than just a handful of them like Bernie Sanders, I don’t see how ColoradoCare really stood a chance. I think there was an issue of education of the public, but anytime the word taxes comes up, people lose their minds. I don’t know if the message wasn’t conveyed, but it wasn’t just a raise in taxes, it was a raise in taxes as a replacement to what one already pays in premiums. It wasn’t just a tax, it was a trade off.

Like I said, it’s really hard when nobody wants it to succeed, including Democrats. But, I do think that when it does succeed and people see it can be done correctly, like the marijuana laws, I think it’s going to become like a domino effect. It just has to be done right, and when it is, I think we’ll see the more progressive states start to adopt it.

Evan Vann: We’ll touch on Republican leadership and Trump’s attitude towards healthcare a little more in just a second, but real quick, as you probably know one of the biggest opponents of ColoradoCare in Colorado politics was Sen. Michael Bennet. I’m sure you’ve heard about the proposed amendment, actually proposed by Sen. Sanders, in the Senate that would have allowed importation of Canadian pharmaceuticals that had enough Republican support from senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to pass but what struck down mainly by 13 Democrats who voted against it, namely Michael Bennet. As someone who has found yourself at odds with Bennet often, and as an average person who understands the healthcare system from a consumer standpoint, what’s your take on Bennet?

Bryan: Well, I think him and Democrats like him are the reason we have Trump, he’s just an establishment Democrat. On some social issues you’ll get some differences, but there isn’t that much difference between somebody like Bennet and a Republican 30 years ago. As the Democratic Party continues to move further and further to the right because of people like Bennet, so does the Republican party, so they put up someone like Trump. My guess is that he’s heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, I don’t know if that’s a fact, but I’d be willing to bet on it.

Evan Vann: Well that’s a bet you’d win, because he is, to the tune of about 500,000 dollars.

Bryan: Anytime somebody is against things that are in the benefit of society as a whole, I always follow the money and find where it leads. If the oil and gas companies don’t want you to believe in climate change, they’ll give you enough money to where you don’t. It’s the same thing with healthcare: if pharmaceutical companies don’t want to compete with lower prices from Canada, or for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices, they’ll make sure it won’t happen. We’re the only industrialized country, I believe, that doesn’t negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies, which is why places like Canada have it much more accessible; there is somebody acting on behalf of the citizens, which we don’t have here. That isn’t by coincidence.

Evan Vann: Moving to a different portion of the political spectrum, obviously there have been a lot of talks from Republican leadership in Congress about repealing the Affordable Care Act. It’s something that’s been talked about in the past, but it looks more real than ever right now. I’ll start out by asking, if the Affordable Care Act goes away, what happens to you and your family?

Bryan: Well, I could think of several things. One thing would be the mandate that allows your children to stay on your plan until they’re 26. We have a college age daughter who can be on our plan, and obviously a younger aged daughter who could be on our plan until she’s 26. If that’s repealed, it would seriously affect our daughter’s ability to receive coverage while they’re going to college, an already pricey thing.

The other real major issue for us is the fact that the ACA restricts insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, which I think is important. The Affordable Care Act could have worked, or could work, it just wasn’t given enough time to be tweaked and worked out. Obviously I prefer a singlepayer system, but I believe that the ACA could have been a step in the right direction if enough time was given for it to work out.

Those are the big things I can think of, but without knowing what they’re gonna do to it, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen to premiums or things like that. They’re probably going to get rid of the mandate, which is an important part of the plan because the idea is that when everybody is on the plan, the healthier people balance out the sicker people and hopefully they balance each other out.

Evan Vann: As of right now, the Republicans haven’t offered a replacement to the plan they hope to repeal. Based on your experience with healthcare, if the ACA is repealed, what do you think America’s healthcare system will look like?

Bryan: I’m sure there will be something that they’ll call a replacement. They’ll probably keep the more popular aspects of Obamacare intact because they don’t want to do something that’s unpopular. The Affordable Care Act is something that people don’t like until it’s taken away and they realize how they benefit from it. People don’t like it in concept, but it’s like so many other issues where people aren’t as up to date on it and don’t like it until they realize how it helps them. I think the big concern is what will happen in the states that have opted for the Medicaid expansions, and the people in those states that can’t really afford healthcare. Basically, I think the poor people in those states are going to be the ones that get screwed. The people with 9-5 jobs that have benefits won’t be affected as much, it’s gonna be those people that rely on that public support that will really struggle.

Evan Vann: The ACA is obviously on the chopping block. As an advocate for singlepayer, how does the fight for socialized medicine continue, even amidst the bleak future of Obamacare?

Bryan: I think that the election pretty much destroyed the future for the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t look good with a Republican president and congress. Like I said, they may keep some aspects, but they’re going to gut it. I think it’s done, unfortunately.They’re already setting the stage for the repeal, and I think they’re going to go through with it.

But in terms of the fight for single payer, like so many other progressive issues, it’ll be a fight that’s fought on the state level. Once a state implements something, whether that be Colorado or Oregon or California, it’ll be hard to stop that momentum. Progressive policies and ideas, if you poll people, are the most popular and supported ideas out there, but that doesn’t match the people getting elected. Time after time, we’re not electing people that want to put these popular policies in place, like Senator Bennet. It’s pretty clear why, the people that support and fund their campaigns don’t want these things happen.

Evan Vann: The fight for the Affordable Care Act is happening on a federal level. On a state level, what should the discussion be about?

Bryan: I absolutely think that while we defend the Affordable Care Act on a federal level, and try to keep as much of it intact as possible, the fight for singlepayer can happen on a state level. Those things can happen simultaneously. In fact, it’s gonna have to happen that way; the federal government is always lagging behind and they won’t do anything until they feel that they absolutely have to, and that pressure will have to come from the states.

I think we should continue to focus on progressive ideas. They work. The economy of California, under the progressive leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown, look a lot different from economies like Kansas and Texas, which are basically being ran under a perfect Republican template. Places thrive under progressive ideas and policies, and once people see that, singlepayer will become more popular. As of right now though, a lot of red states like Texas don’t have the political culture to push those sorts of ideas through. Once people see that the sky won’t fall and America won’t cease to exist as we know it, like with marijuana laws, the culture will change.

Once Trump guts the Affordable Care Act and millions are left uncovered, that sort of event has the capability to mobilize lots of people to fight for singlepayer. I think in Western Colorado it hasn’t worked as well out here as it has in some other places. We play about twice as much as somebody would on the Front Range on a monthly basis. Somebody in Denver might be paying $100 a month for their healthcare plan, out here we may be paying $400 or $500 with subsidies, without subsidies, it may be as much as $700. We just don’t have that market or the efficiency of the healthcare infrastructure to reap those benefits as much. So, I don’t think that people in Western Colorado haven’t really seen the benefits of the plan like some highly urbanized areas have, so when the ACA does fall, and those people in those urban areas are left uncovered, you could see a good swell in singlepayer advocacy.

It was here that our conversation ended. After bidding goodbye to Cheyenne, Pumpkin and the rest of the family, I ventured back into the quiet January night, humbled by the experience of getting to talk to Bryan. Like I’ve said, often it is easy to get caught up in what the media would like us to believe politics is: a circus. As disillusioning as this may be, people like Bryan Williams remind me that that is not what politics is. In the midst of an inauguration filled with music and media and spectacle, life goes on. All across the country, some of the most intelligent minds are working within the most kind people. The cameras won’t be on them, though. Everyone has seemed to be more concerned with who’s a finalist for Trump’s cabinet.

Note: The author would like to issue a thank you to Bryan and his family for their willingness to participate in this piece, as well as their generous hospitality.

 

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About the Author

Evan Vann

Evan Vann is a student at Ouray High School in Ouray, Colorado. He holds interest in government, current events, and activism, and aspires to study political science in higher education.