THE HUMAN COST OF THE "INDIVIDUAL MARKET." Lisa Girion, continuing her wonderful work exposing atrocious insurer practices in the LA Times, has a great piece detailing yet another tragic absurdity: In California, insurers will simply refuse to provide individual coverage to applicants from certain occupations. So if you're a roofer, or an athlete, or a dockworker, or a firefighter, and you apply for coverage, you'll be turned down, sight unseen. And even if you're not in one of these "risky" professions, if you've taken such medications as Celebrex, Lipitor, or eight of the Top 20 bestselling prescriptions in the United States, you can still be blackballed from all coverage.
This is the world traversed by the unfortunate souls condemned to seek coverage on the individual -- non-employer provided -- market. One of those souls was Maria Leavey, a luminous, unceasingly generous progressive who decided to make her life and living doing the organizing and social capital building and advising and bridging that no one else seemed capable of (all those great Prospect breakfasts with prominent Democrats? Her doing.). Last week, at the age of 52, her heart failed her. A congenital defect, much like the one that killed her father, had lain undetected over the years, and it struck over the holidays. Maria had no health insurance.
It's impossible to know if coverage would've averted her death. I've no idea if she ever felt chest pains, and decided to wait, or was recommended for a precautionary echocardiogram, but preferred to put her money into rent. But the very possibility smears our society's illusions of justice and fairness. Beyond her extraordinary personal and moral qualities, Maria was following the American Dream -- the very one Republicans so often extol. She was a political entrepreneur, creating an occupation and pathway that hadn't existed before she conceived of it. She could've worked corporate had she so chose, or entered the bureaucracy at some larger institution. She was on a first-name basis with everyone from Howard Dean to Harry Reid -- a perch in a communications shop somewhere wouldn't have eluded her for long. Her sin was, instead, to take the road less traveled, to create something new and add as much value as her talents and vision allowed. That isn't a life course that comes with health insurance, Indeed, it's entirely possible that she applied, and had taken a painkiller at some point, or had a surgery, and was simply turned away. She never went corporate, and so she didn't deserve coverage.
Maria Leavey died last week. And maybe health insurance wouldn't have saved her. But maybe it would've. And what sort of society do we inhabit where we allow that question to linger?