Government's 'Free' Ride
Sarah Smiley March 23, 2009
The Obama Administration's tentative (and now thankfully withdrawn) idea to bill third-party insurers for veterans' injuries sustained during combat heralds the perfect opportunity to discuss, once again, the subject of military health care and what many civilians don't understand about it.
When I was in high school and a military dependent of my active-duty Navy dad, I broke my leg while jumping off my piano teacher's front porch. I was taken to Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., (the old Portsmouth hospital, where tales of hospitalization, and especially labor and deliveries, are legendary). On this particular day, there was a shortage of the lightweight fiberglass material used in modern medicine to stabilize broken bones. In its place, the Navy doctors wrapped my leg in plaster of Paris, which is the same material used to make some walls. Unlike its sleek fiberglass counterpart, plaster of paris casts are thick, bumpy and somewhat chalky. I left the hospital with what felt (and looked) like a 10-pound chunk of wall on my leg.
"But hey, it was free," I said laughing when I explained the situation to my high school government class.
"Your cast wasn't free," a boy in the back of the class said. "All of our tax dollars paid for it." I was at the time a knobby-kneed teenager who still cared about what her peers thought. I didn't come up with a good comeback until the class bell had rung and I was hobbling on crutches to my locker.
Free? My health care isn't "free," I thought. What does that punk know about "free" anyway?
The next day in class, I told my classmate how "expensive" my health care really is. My dad had paid for it when he was halfway across the world, in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean, when his first daughter was born. He paid for it when he didn't meet me until I was seven months old. He paid for it with every missed piano recital, Christmases spent apart, and when he accumulated 11 years of sea duty by the time I was 22 years old. Oh, we had paid for it, alright. And we had paid in ways that most people would consider unacceptable and too "costly." (Imagine: Instead of billing you a premium each month, your insurance company will require you to be at their service, at any time, in any place, even if it means that you will literally miss half of your child's childhood. Oh, and you may have to die for them, too.)
True, my classmate and his parents had also paid in part for my health care, but then, they never had to deal with deployments either.
By now, everyone knows (or should know, at least) that the sacrifices inherent with serving in the military far outweigh the benefits (medical care included). Still, it amazes me how some people declare their support for the troops and then get bent out of shape about how much of their tax dollars go to actually supporting the troops and their families.
The Obama administration claims that by not holding private insurance companies accountable, the government is giving them a free ride. A free ride for what? It was the government, not the insurance companies, who called our servicemembers into action. Men and women of the armed services sacrifice far more than money to serve the country, and part of the deal is that the government will always take care of them in return, much like a private corporation takes care of its employees with health insurance. Billing a third-party insurance company for war-related injuries would be giving the government a free ride. (Which is to say nothing of the large premiums and resulting insurance hardships placed of military families that would ultimately result from such a plan.)
The Obama administration has wisely backed down from this idea after hearing the enormous, unified outcry from veterans' groups, a force to be reckoned with. Veterans take their benefits and entitlements seriously. And well they should. The country has asked much of them. All they ask is for the country to hold up their end of the deal. Because nothing -- not freedom or health care -- is ever truly free.