Old Dick Cheney has finally had a change of heart. Even though the former co-president has suffered five heart attacks and has been kept alive since 2010 by a small pump powered by special batteries worn in a fanny pack, he underwent successful heart transplant surgery last Saturday. The Cheney family thanked the anonymous donor, who was rumored to be an illegal alien and gay activist.
Some doctors and ethicists are already questioning the wisdom of granting an organ implant to a sick 71-year-old man, but if I was on Cheney's death panel, I'd say more power to him. Give him a new heart, a fresh kidney, a clean lung — whatever it takes to keep his vital signs ticking. I want to see Dick Cheney healthy and hearty so he can be alert for his war-crimes tribunal. It would be inhumane to have him show up trembling and frail, unable to defend himself. So what if the average heart recipient is in the 50-to-60-year-old range? This man has a rendezvous with destiny, and destiny's pissed off. In Cheney's defense, he had waited 20 months to receive a donor heart. I understand that he was on the recipient's list just above Joseph Kony. In a single year, this man had a quadruple bypass, two angioplasties, and a pacemaker surgically implanted. No wonder he was so bitterly opposed to medical malpractice litigation. His doctor's assistant is a hunchback named Igor.
According to Transplant Living, the cost of a heart transplant has gone up from $658,800 in 2007 to approximately $997,700 today. Of course, Cheney has the government's gold-plated health-care plan, the kind that you can't get, so taxpayers will pick up the tab for cracking the old man's chest. This means I'm paying to keep Dick Cheney alive while going without health insurance myself. I have to wait until 2014 when a provision in the Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as "Obamacare," kicks in and prevents insurers from discriminating against "preexisting conditions." I made the mistake of seeing a psychiatrist once, so now no organization of any sort will insure me because I'm insane, you know. If it weren't for the generous people at the Church Health Center, who offer discounted medical services to the working poor or otherwise uninsurable, I'd be lying in the back room on a ventilator and an IV drip, writing my last check.
Dick Cheney gets to promenade around like the Energizer Bunny while 49 million people lack access to the most basic care. Yet the right-wing propaganda machine has convinced the proletariat that Obamacare is a government takeover of health care, when it's really just an effort to rein in the cut-throat insurance industry that makes its profits by denying care to the sick.
The controversial law will finally see a courtroom this week, when the Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of Obamacare. Why is it that I don't trust an impartial decision from virtually the same court that stopped citizens from counting votes in 2000 and gave the presidency to George W. Bush? At issue is the "individual mandate," which was originally a Republican idea. It assures that public health is a shared responsibility, requiring those not already covered by employee-based programs, Medicare, or Medicaid to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty if not exempted by a religious objection. The provision is waived in cases of financial hardship and subsidies are granted to lower-income customers.
It's a windfall for insurance companies, but the conservative position is that the government should not have the right to force you to buy anything. As I said, I've been begging to buy insurance for a decade, so for me, money was never better spent; and they have to sell it to me. Millions of people will be able to afford to stay alive without taking out second mortgages, and parents of special-needs children will no longer be denied coverage. To me, it sounds like a Republican wet dream, because everybody profits. But religious extremists don't believe contraception or women's birth control pills should be covered with your other prescriptions.
The Republican presidential candidates grabbed the religious exemption issue and pounded that wedge like John Henry hammered steel. Suddenly bills were stampeding through state legislatures limiting women's access to contraceptives. In Arizona, they actually passed a bill that exempts an employer from covering birth control pills if they're not being used for "medical purposes." If a woman wishes the cost of her contraception to be covered by insurance, she has to "submit a claim" to her employer stating the reasons for its usage. In other words, you can still have intercourse in Arizona, but you'd damn well better not be having any fun.
The Supreme Court's decision on Obamacare isn't expected until June, but right-wingers are already licking their chops and taking a victory lap. If Obamacare is struck down, it wounds the president just in time for the national political conventions. Imagine the crowing in Tampa if the individual mandate is struck down. There will be stemwinders over the tyranny of a government mandate; even though if you plan to operate a car, you must first have a driver's license, then are required to procure insurance, and register the vehicle. Or, if you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, you're required to wear a helmet. Even your pet schnauzer needs rabies shots and a license, so don't say the government never mandates a purchase.
Think of it this way: If an uninsured person gets sick, they go to the emergency room and the cost is passed on to you. If everyone were required to purchase some form of health insurance, the insurance pool will grow larger, costs will go down, and you will be responsible only for your own care. As it stands now, you're paying for Dick Cheney's heart surgery, when I believe he got the wrong procedure. What he really needed was a soul transplant, but that's considered a preexisting condition.
Randy Haspel writes the blog Born-Again Hippies, where a version of this column first appeared.