One aspect of the push for meaingful health care reform is the telling of stories. In the face of right-wing scare tactics about what reform might bring, it’s important that we remind ourselves just how much of a nightmare the current system represents. The stories don’t have to be overly dramatic or outrageous – just real and painful. For example, here’s my health care horror story:
When I was in graduate school, I spent a few days in the hospital. My insurance company at the time (Aetna) refused to pay because when I was admitted, a specific form had not been filled out. Aetna blamed the hospital. The hospital blamed Aetna. Since neither would take responsibility, I was being told to shell out two thousand dollars that I should not have owed. I spent hours on the phone arguing my case, but neither side would budge. At one point, I even had operators from both companies on a three-way call, and they got into a shouting match with one another.
I dug in my heels, resolving never to pay the money, and after about 18 months, I suddenly stopped getting bills from the hospital. It seems that the insurance company had been counting on me to eventually give up. Had I not been a broke graduate student who wasn’t too concerned about his credit rating, I probably would have paid. I wonder how much money insurance companies have made by using similar tactics against other people.
Telling anecdotes such as these can have a powerful ripple effect. As long as they’re true, you can’t argue with them. You can’t tell someone that their pain and frustration isn’t real or doesn’t matter. Instead of encouraging debate and shouting, personal stories invite empathy and retelling, even the reciprocal telling of another story. The goal here, as stated above, is for people to realize how bad things already are.
Some places I am telling my story and am encouraging others to do so are on Facebook, Twitter, and various blogs; in my own sermons and church newsletters; and in personal conversations. I’ve been struck by how people who are turned off or put on the defensive by a political argument are willing to openly share their painful personal experiences.