The Health Insurance Slave Trade

by Frank Wycoff

March 29, 2004   


Tim and Jodene are farmers here in upstate New York; they milk about 50 head and would have it no other way. This year, for the first time in ten years, Tim has Health Insurance. Jodene does not; they could not afford $240 a month for the both of them, so they settled on the person that needed it the most. The Insurance for Tim costs them $140 a month through a state-funded plan for small businesses. In a nutshell, it is health insurance for the working poor. Do not misjudge me here; Tim and Jodene are extremely grateful for this insurance. Next year will be Jodene's turn. Tim got a hernia three years ago and because they did not have insurance for the operation, well, it never was taken care of.

Three years of pain that led him to tears every evening after working all day and three years of being limited in his physical activities also left him overweight, which (does anyone want to guess?) created a heart problem. I've known Tim and Jodene for five years now and it was not until this past week that this came to my attention. These are proud, hard working people -- yes, a bit stoic -- but good people. I am proud to call them good customers and good friends. Tim had successful heart surgery three weeks ago (non-invasive) and last week had his hernia taken care of. All three farming families on Tim and Jodene's road have the same problems with heath insurance. One farmer has worked 16 hours a day for twenty years: 8 hours a day off the farm working as a mason so that he could have insurance coverage, plus four hours of milking each morning and night. To think last October I was feeling sorry for myself when I broke my wrist.

Not having health insurance in this country can easily be seen as a death sentence. Hell, you could even work yourself to death to keep it. Were it not for my wife Nancy, I would not have health insurance, which is the only reason she is working. This is the saddest thing I have to live with, as she does not even like the job and her dreams are in the dustbin.

It is my firm belief that the insurance companies and the IRS are the number two and three terrorist organizations after al Qaeda. Too extreme? Think about it: if you did not have health insurance for you, your mate, your family, what better to go along with that pain in your groin or the hurt in your back than the terror of not having insurance? Cap that off with low or no wages that are totally controlled by whether or not who you work for offers you or helps you with health insurance.

I don't believe I need to say anything about the IRS -- we are terrified enough of that terrorist organization.

I have fought having insurance most of my adult life, in every case swallowing my principles and compromising, usually with my wife (though we did give up all life insurance policies several years ago.) There was one time when we had a printing business that I made an offer to our employees when the price of health insurance was climbing. "How about if we all pool the money we are paying for insurance?" In a year we would have $12,000 dollars after we take out for the small health needs during the year, after all, we were all healthy.

I'll make this short: in the end not one employee, not even my wife, would go for it. My wife and I were in our forties, our employees in their twenties, even with $54,000 dollars in the bank at the end of five years, all were too terrified to be without health insurance. One last thing about this: our bookkeeper said, in the end, "you know, Frank, that the IRS will not allow it without forming a non-profit corporation."

Non profit. Once again I may become a board member (of Swans), once in my past so a group of people could plant trees around their neighborhood and again today, so a group of people can continue their First Amendment right to free speech. Again I will set aside my principles, my trust in people, to stop the terror of others of being sued, without insurance, and cow-tow to the IRS for a few measly dollars in operating expenses.

I could go on, but as it is my anger will take too much time and energy from me and I do need to work this week -- my truck and liability insurance is due at the end of the month.

People, we no longer have trust in each other. I may rant later on this.

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Frank Wycoff is a true friend of Swans, literally. Even more, he was one of the five crazies who launched Swans in 1996, and while not contributing his words for several years, he has helped in countless ways, quietly, in the background, to keep the project going. Frank Wycoff used to have a small printing business in California. He and his wife Nancy sold it in 1998 and relocated to Oneonta, New York, where he now works as an independent contractor around the houses, many of them in dire need of his expertise.

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Published March 29, 2004
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