An Open Letter to President Obama and the Honored Members of the U.S. Congress

A few months ago my son had to be flown to the Rainbow Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, after, in what promises to be high on his list of poorly made decisions for the rest of his life, he decided to swallow a latex glove.

Today I got the bill for the LifeFlight. At $1,973, it comes to roughly sixteen-and-a-half-bucks per mile.

Crazy.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t  offered a choice. The doctor didn’t say, ‘We’d like to LifeFlight him to Columbus, but you can drive him there yourself if you like.’ It was more like, ‘We need to LifeFlight him and the chopper will be here in about 30 minutes.’

In most other areas in which the immediate or eventual exchange of legal tender occurs, a sort-of implied or verbal contract is initiated:

When I buy something at the store, the price is on the item. Taking it to the cashier implies that I would like to purchase it.

When I buy something online, I go through several screens, including one asking if I’m okay with the shipping costs and a review screen, before I make the click that says, in effect, ‘Yes, I’m okay with this.’

Even the communications companies, though not explicit about all of their charges, tell you that your monthly bill will be roughly x dollars before you agree to anything.

The healthcare profession, however, doesn’t behave in this manner. They take the assumption that I need their services to the greatest extent, charging me for services they won’t give me the chance to decline. I offer no disrespect to the doctor who helped my son, nor to his decision to call the helicopter. But the administration officials who charged me for a service when I was left in the dark as to a) its cost, b) its efficacy, and c) its necessity are in the wrong. This would be considered unethical and reprehensible in almost any other area of commerce.

But the healthcare system gets away with it because of the assumption that need robs us of our right to choice.

This isn’t the worst of it, however. Luckily, the bill I received today won’t actually cost me a dime. Because, like many of us(1), I am gainfully employed at a place that offers decent health coverage.

But again, this compromises my freedom to choose. Should I want to quit my job, I must weigh this consequence: I will not have health coverage, and healthcare professionals will continue to make my choices for me should I need them.

One small accident could throw me into poverty for the rest of my life.

Or, to bring it more throughly home, someone such as my girlfriend, who was born with cystic fibrosis, a very dangerous and typically terminal disease, who through no fault of her own, through no choice that she made, will require a lifelong relationship with various healthcare professionals, services, and administrators, must consider how each major life-choice will affect her ability to receive the care that she needs.

Everything from college to employment to marriage must be held up to the light of a questionable and, if I may, corrupt system to determine her quality of life.

This, Honored Servants of the American Public, is just wrong.

Mr. President and Honored Members of the U.S. Congress,

I am not concerned with being able to choose which healthcare provider I avail myself of. I understand that, in times of emergency, need does in fact take priority over choice.

Nor am I concerned with networks of doctors and pharmacies. Our country is obsessed with the bottom line much more than quality and equitable service. While ethically wrong, I understand we’re far too inured in this approach to back out of it now.

I am not concerned with a public option. I like the idea that the government it trying to hold the insurance companies accountable, but I question that this is the best way to do it. Regardless, the public option will only work as long as the person in the Oval Office believes in it, and it’s too controversial not to end up on the chopping block within the next 20 years.

I am not terribly concerned with the cost of pharmaceuticals. Sure, maybe each pill costs less than two bucks to make, but that first pill cost several million. Medically essential pharmaceuticals should be offered in a generic form, but the developing company has a right to make money off of it first. Medically inessential pharmaceuticals (think Viagra and cosmetic scripts) shouldn’t be covered by insurance anyway, so they are not, in my opinion, part of the conversation.

I am not concerned that my employer be required to offer healthcare. This often traps many people into jobs they may not like and, in my opinion, reduces the quality of life for many people. Sure, these people can breathe and eat and all the essentials of survival, but happiness is essential for living. Being miserable for roughly half of your waking-day isn’t an acceptable trade-off. Furthermore, it inhibits the self-employed among us, the inventors and artists.

I am not concerned with these things in the sense that you’re thinking.

I am not concerned with freedom of healthcare.
I am concerned with freedom from healthcare.

I am concerned that we are able to get the care we need without it compromising the quality of our remaining lives.

I am concerned that people with lifelong illnesses and genetic diseases be allowed the same choices – to work, to marry, to have children – as those who do not.

I am concerned that no one lives in poverty because of choices that she didn’t make but so-called professionals made for her.

I am concerned that we need not understand insurance bills and statements. I am concerned that we know we’re not being taken advantage of.

I am concerned that healthcare should not be on the top of American’s minds. I am concerned that we know we’ll get the care we need when we need it, without being punished for it.

This is what I mean. While I appreciate the work you’ve done to this point, I’d like you to take it further.

The American Constitution and the Bill of Rights gives us so many wonderful freedoms of, speech and religion to name two big ones.

I would hope that, in the 200-plus years since, we’ve become enlightened enough to recognize that freedom of is great, but freedom from is truly freedom.

I ask humbly that you consider granting us freedom from healthcare.

Respectfully,
Bo Butler, American


  1. Though fewer and fewer of us as this economy continues to affect the so-called ‘main street’ folks, while the oligarchs of Wall Street continue to reap rewards even while being lambasted in Congress.
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