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It Takes a Village to Make a Public Option Work

Our village could afford to provide health care to everyone, if we weren’t spending so much to fund the war profiteers who keep us living in fear. The village providing health care to everyone would be the Public Option.
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It takes a village to make a public option work. But what size village? Is Los Angeles a big enough village? If it takes a village at least as big as L.A., what can people do in places like Lancaster, Pennsylvania or Laramie, Wyoming?


The corporate churchmen tell us that Christians are required to take care of their neighbors. This Christian duty to care for the needy means that no government interference in health care is necessary, they say. Just give to your favorite televangelist and he will sort out whose need is true and who is just a malingerer.

Pictured here, Larry Wines is a music writer and erstwhile radio host in Los Angeles. He covers “roots” music, rather than corporate pop, rock or the new “country” music crafted in big-city studios. Larry writes reviews and produces one of the web’s most useful compendiums of performance calendars and other notes about performers, groups and trends in the roots music world.

Artists rely on Larry for information about venues and trends. Music lovers rely on Larry for information about who to see (particularly emerging talent that hasn’t received much P.R. yet) and where to see them. Venues rely on Larry’s information to fill their seats – to stay in business. And vendors from the makers of coffee and muffins to luthiers who repair travel-weary instruments benefit from the business Larry delivers to their customers.

Larry is at the center of a village of music lovers, music makers and music venues. Larry is a cornerstone in the musical homes and businesses that performers, fans and venue owners build.

Last summer, Larry suffered a detached retina in his left eye. Larry writes his columns and radio scripts and organizes his data for web-distribution on his computer, during the day. In the evening, Larry drives from venue to venue watching acts, schmoozing artists, managers, venue owners and fans to mine the data that ends up in his writing. Writing. Driving. Things not compatible with serious eye damage.

Did I mention that Larry isn’t old? His detached retina isn’t the natural decline of an aging body. He isn’t as young as many of the artists he writes about. And his injury isn’t as severe as might be an accident with a tour bus, or even an accidental fall from a coffee house stage. His retina can be repaired. All it takes is money – or health insurance.

Did I mention that Larry works in roots music? That he works with new and emerging artists? Is it obvious that Larry lives hand-to-mouth? Like so many other creative types, Larry doesn’t have health insurance. Working with acoustic music, emerging (ie: poor) artists and small venues, Larry also doesn’t have money.

Larry is too young and healthy to follow the Republican advice to ‘Die Quickly.” Should he just abandon music writing and start to train for a new career, more suited to someone with a detached retina? Should all the artists who count on his writing to reach their fans stop their rehearsals to take courses to learn how to write what Larry used to write? Should the fans who used to look to Larry for information leave roots music and become customers of the corporate, stadium music scene? Should the small coffee houses and performance spaces who looked to Larry’s writing to fill their seats lament the passing of an era and shutter their doors?

You see, the Republican approach to health care has the same trickle-down effects that Reagan’s decision that ketchup was a vegetable had. By encouraging children to gobble up sugar-laden tomato paste, Reagan undermined the health efforts of every parent trying to teach their children about good nutrition and dental care. By opposing every effort to deliver meaningful health care to the public, modern Republicans inflict trickle-down financial damage on a wide array of victims and businesses beyond the individuals whose health is damaged.

But Larry’s musical village is unwilling to cave in to the Republican approach. Musicians and fans understand the potential loss in their lives, if Larry is no longer able to do what he has been doing for years. For weeks, a small group of volunteers has been handling Larry’s computer work, transcribing his words, organizing his data, helping him get to where he can hear (if not clearly see) performances. And on Sunday, October 25, a group of musicians and fans put on a benefit concert to raise money for Larry.

The concert attracted more than 150 customers, paying $20 each for tickets, and then $2 a bottle for donated beer and $2 for plates of donated food (the concert ran 7 hours). Assume that there were 160 customers and that the average attendee actually ended up spending $30. That comes out to $4,800 for the concert, minus a few hundred to rent the venue – make it $4,500.

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This was Larry’s village taking care of one of its own. It was the Village taking care of its poet laureate or its minister of information - someone important to the survival of the Village. The Village undertook a labor of love and self-preservation to benefit its own future as much as Larry’s future. The Village had purpose, incentive and a willingness to give all that it was able.

And it raised less than a quarter of the cost of retina reattachment surgery.

Larry’s village is too small and too poor to provide medical care for even one, relatively healthy but injured person. Paying $30 apiece, they could barely dent Larry’s medical bill.

But the village of Los Angeles has 4 million people in it. If each one of those 4 million had given just one penny for Larry’s medical care, that would have raised $40,000 – enough for the retina surgery and a big hunk of his rehab. One penny. The greater Los Angeles metropolitan area has about 13 million people in it. One penny per person would have raised $130,000. The Village of L.A. could have easily handled Larry’s medical care with money left over to spare, if each person simply gave one penny.

Insurance premiums are never just a penny. They are thousands and thousands of dollars a year. Do the math. If each person in the 13 million member L.A. village paid $1 per day for medical care, that would be $13 million dollars a day and $4,745,000,000 (4 Billion, 745 Million dollars) per year for medical care. $1 per day would be a $365 per year premium for each person. And that’s less than a quarter of the cost of your first morning Starbucks.

Have you ever heard of a medical plan that charges only $365 per year? Of course not. Can you imagine a medical plan that charged as little as $3,650 per year? That would be $47 BILLION dollars. Just for greater Los Angeles.

But we are told that we can’t afford this kind of spending. One reason we can’t ask people to spend $1 a day for health car is that we are already taxing them much more than that to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wars cost each person in the U.S. almost $10 per day in taxes. That number is a little misleading because there are a lot of people at the top of the income pile who collect income from war contractor investments but who don’t pay taxes.

That’s right – people at the Dick Cheney level make their income from the no-bid contracts for war contractors. The money for the wars doesn’t even leave our shores. It simply routes from the taxpayers to the dividend checks that George Bush (junior and senior), Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Phil Gramm and so many other Republicans live on.

Tom Hall

Our village could afford to provide health care to everyone, if we weren’t spending so much to fund the war profiteers who keep us living in fear. The village providing health care to everyone would be the Public Option. Using the 3% management cost of Medicare and Medicade, rather than the 30% management rake-off of insurance companies, our national village could provide not only health care but also preventative care and health education to every man, woman, child and fetus in the United States.

Or, we can go on funding war profiteers.

Tom Hall