My Turn: Affordable Care Act is eroding meaning of New Hampshire’s motto
FILE - In this 1990's file photo, crews work on the symbolic Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia, N.H. New Hampshire awoke May 3, 2003, to find its stern granite symbol of independence and stubbornness, the Old Man of the Mountain, had collapsed into indistinguishable rubble. (Photo/Jim Cole, File)
New Hampshire is small and mostly rural. We have a well-known motto, “Live Free or Die.” Until May 2003, we had a famous landmark, the Old Man of the Mountain.
From 1,200 feet, the Old Man crashed down in the darkness of night and became a memory. Thousands of years of hard weathering eroded its place on the granite cliff.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in New Hampshire, our motto, our creed, suffered similar erosion. We have become less free – with scarcely a fight, let alone a battle cry.
According to Fortune magazine, WellPoint is “a massive health insurer.” In late 2013, WellPoint, through its subsidiary, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, was granted total control over access to health care for those of us with no other option for health insurance.
From its exclusive position, WellPoint-Anthem dictated where, and from whom, tens of thousands of us could receive medical treatment. Health insurance does not equal health care.
“Dictated” is the proper word because in no way was this a fair fight. Key elements of “live free” include fairness and equality and inclusion. But in this instance, size mattered. Money mattered.
In 2013, WellPoint reported revenues of $71 billion or roughly more than 13 times the budget for the state of New Hampshire. That same year WellPoint acknowledged spending over $11 million on lobbying – more than our state’s Insurance Department’s budget.
Dictated is the proper word because the “legal” process was inherently inconsistent with the first principle of our constitution – that all legitimate government is “instituted for the general good.” For all. Equally.
WellPoint-Anthem eliminated insurance coverage for 12 of our state’s 26 hospitals and for the health care providers associated with them. As widely reported, Anthem lobbyist Paula Rogers told the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee: “We’ve got 26 hospitals. Do we need 26 hospitals to serve the population we expect to see and still provide quality of care? We decided that we didn’t.”
It is safe to assume that the “we” in this statement represents duty to shareholders not to caregivers or care-needers or communities or to constituents. Or “to doing no harm.”
We were repeatedly assured from the beginning of the ACA that we could keep our doctors and our hospitals. We were promised choice. We were promised affordability. WellPoint-Anthem added a footnote to those promises to exclude our state – promises made by some important and powerful people in our national and state government. An asterisk was working its way next to our “live free” creed to denote its compromise, exception, erosion.
Our state is made up of caring communities. Many have hospitals that have served multiple generations and that have been supported by those generations to grow into comprehensive, contemporary, health care and wellness facilities. They save lives, restore lives, and through preventative care, enhance lives. Every day. Throughout our entire state.
One of those hospitals not deemed necessary by WellPoint-Anthem is Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough. On the afternoon of Feb. 10, an industrial accident resulted in an explosion at a factory that sent more than a dozen injured employees to MCH. Two were so severely injured that they were airlifted to major medical facilities in Massachusetts. All survived and have been released from hospitals.
Contrary to the assessment by WellPoint-Anthem, most of the injured, their families and first responders are probably very certain of the value MCH delivered that day and for days afterward. They do not doubt its “necessity.”
Community hospitals save lives everyday – and will continue to save lives unless we allow them to become financially crippled by entities that dictate who gets saved and where.
Whether you call it Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, the operative word is care. And while many of us now pay health insurance premiums to WellPoint-Anthem, many still do not have access to health care, to new providers or to our own doctors who delivered the continuity of care that is widely applauded for both its effectiveness and efficiency.
Now is the time for a leadership that delivers the solution to this injustice imposed on our state. Anyone who thinks that waiting for next year is an option has never set foot in an emergency room or an urgent care facility.
Now is the time, before Election Day, for any incumbent or challenger to free our state from a corporate stranglehold that limits our access to our own health care providers and excludes thousands of us from the promises of the Affordable Care Act – promises made from the highest levels of elected office that were broken in the boardroom. Promises made to everyone in the country, including New Hampshire.
Now is the time for candidates to exercise their best leadership skills. Craft the solution for now – executive orders, legislation, court injunctions, whatever. Deliver this now. Save lives. Earn votes.
Or change our motto to “Live Free* or Die.”
(Michael Justice lives in West Peterborough.)