When I heard that Gov. Mike Pence was going to march into my town with his white smile, probably accompanied by plaudits from his new state-run news service (seriously, Pence just started Hoosier-language Pravda), and announce how happy he is to “help” “low-income Hoosiers” get more welfare, I felt like crying. According to federal measurements, my family consists of “low-income Hoosiers” even though we’ll make something near the median state income this year, because under Pence’s Medicaid expansion government dependents can earn twice as much as the federal poverty level. In fact, we’re eligible for Pence’s welfa…er, Medicaid expansion. No way in hell are we taking it.
In the first place, I am not about to get my family into a health-care program that offers worse care than being uninsured. In the second, we live a quite comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We eat well, we have two cars, and our house is almost paid off. Our children are well-clothed and well-toyed. We have memberships to the local zoo and indoor gardens. We even have an alcohol budget (which dwindles every time I have to write articles like this).
We have a high-deductible health plan, so we pay essentially all of our medical bills in cash. And we have never had a problem affording that, despite having also paid cash for our three kids’ births, although affording health care does entail taking the kids to immunization clinics instead of pediatricians to cut costs and visiting quick-care clinics instead of emergency rooms when we have a malady that requires medical attention. But we don’t pay subsidized rates at the clinics. We pay the full cost. As my husband explained to the puzzled nurse once, “We can afford to pay.” If we can, so can lots of people Pence just told to stick their bills to taxpayers.
The clinic nurse was so confused as to why someone would turn down government “aid.” Apparently, my “conservative” governor feels the same way. Why pay for things yourself when you can use government force to compel other people to pay for you? Why encourage thrift and hard work in your citizenry when you can make yourself feel compassionate by giving away other people’s money? Never mind if it encourages poor people to stay poor. Never mind if you or your succeeding governor must raise taxes on working people like me, “poor” and otherwise, to pay for healthy people who choose not to work (or work very much). I mean, 284,000 of the 350,000 uninsured people whom this plan will scoop into the arms of already overburdened taxpayers are able-bodied, childless adults. Apparently it’s enough to dub yourself “conservative” and let others pay the tab for believing it.
We are not unusually savvy savers (although I’ve had to curb my Hancock Fabrics habit and ice-cream purchases). We have close friends who have a great deal of college debt and subsist in graduate school on two very small part-time incomes. They refused flat-out to use Medicaid to pay for their first child’s birth, because, like us, they didn’t need to. With some economizing (which largely entailed choosing a midwife and taking on extra work), they could afford those baby bills. So they did. And they didn’t force me or anyone else to pay for their expenses.
I do not know why this is too much to ask of anyone. It is plain wrong to force people to pay for your expenses if there is any possible way you can pay them yourself. My friends’ actions were honorable, yes, but also should be expected. We should expect people to behave honorably, not give them the means to act dishonorably. We should expect them to dignify their lives with hard work and self-reliance. We should allow them to feel the pride of making their own way, the self-confidence and moral growth that comes from having made the right decision in a moment of difficulty.
We should certainly not tell able-bodied people they deserve their neighbors’ hard-earned income because they earn less than 60 percent of their neighbors do. All this does is breed hopelessness and resentment among the dwindling number of “poor people” who, like me, do their darndest to pay their own way and instead of enjoying the fruits of their labor have to see it taxed away for people who will not similarly put their shoulders behind the wheel.
This is like telling the Little Red Hen that she has to make her cake from seed but everyone else gets to eat it anyway. If I were her, I’d either hide my cake or forget about making it at all. Sometimes, when I consider freelance work, the deciding factor is how much time away from my kids it will entail. Often, the deciding factor is how little I will take home after paying those taxes. When we can live happily on so little, why endure more tiresome exertion only to send those earnings to people who have expended none?