The forces opposed to health care reform have been test-marketing a new and rather strange argument over the last few days. The argument goes like this: people with disabilities will be worse off if health care reform passes because the evil government bureaucrats will decide that our lives are not worth the expense. Sarah Palin, conservatism’s beacon of intellectual honesty, claims that her son Trig (who has Down’s Syndrome) would have to come before a government “death panel” that would decide whether he can continue to receive medical care. An editorial in the conservative Investor’s Business Daily opines that Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.“
As just about every other rational blogger has pointed out, the fact that Hawking continues to live and work in the U.K. and is not living in mortal fear of syringe-wielding bureaucrats would indicate the editorial is unadulterated bullshit.
But there’s something more going on here. Conservatives love to pretend they’re the disability community’s knights in shining armor when it suits their political purposes. In years past, they tried to co-opt us in the abortion debate by making both subtle and explicit claims that every gimp would be snuffed out in the womb were it not for them staying the liberals’ murderous hand. The right has now adapted the tactic to the health care debate, portraying themselves as the defenders and protectors of us meek and vulnerable cripples who dwell in the shadow of a tyrannical and cruel government.
I won’t win any Pulitzers for this sentence, but they can take their false magnanimity and go fuck themselves. Here’s how well the current health care system has worked for me. My parents hit the lifetime cap on their insurance policy because of my multiple hospitalizations as a kid. If not for the fortuitous enactment of a state law that allowed parents to buy into Medicaid, my parents would have either had to impoverish themselves or surrender custody of me to ensure I received the intensive care I needed. If I tried to buy individual coverage now, every private insurer would laugh in my face. My employer-based insurance won’t cover my nursing care (unless I’m hospitalized and I need a nurse to train the hospital staff on comprehending my gimp accent).
The only reason I’m able to live a life with any measure of dignity or independence is because of a government health plan. Millions of people with disabilities don’t even have access to that, what with states slashing Medicaid budgets. The current system forces most people with disabilities to live at the economic margins to receive medical care and those safety nets are badly frayed.
We need health care reform. I need it. Trig needs it. Kids and adults with every kind of disability need it.
What we don’t need is a bunch of screeching ideologues attempting to cynically exploit us for purposes of maintaining the status quo.