The Tea Party has demonized health-care reform -- or Obamacare, as it calls it -- to the point that the group seems to believe that it alone is going to destroy America.
They've disrupted Congressional town hall meetings, screamed about socialized medicine, and decried supporters as traitors over the issue (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before she was shot; her office door was smashed just after she voted for the reform plan in March).
So I had a talk with local Fort Lauderdale Tea Party organizer Gabriel Jose Carrera about the issue. He revealed that he had no health insurance, despite the fact that he suffers from diabetes. Why? Carrera, a lawyer for the past five years, can't afford the outrageous rates. His two children do have health insurance -- through the government-subsidized KidCare program with the State of Florida. That may seem hypocritical, but it's nothing new with Tea Partiers. Sarah Palin-backed Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, who lost his bid to the U.S. Senate, was in the same boat, decrying government programs while accepting Medicaid and KidCare for his own eight children.
Inside, read Carrera's take on the issue, which includes his vision that America should return to the days of the Old West, when people were who were maimed and disfigured got "patched up" and then were left to die in their beds at home before they were buried in the backyard.
Pulp Q&A with Carrera on health care
QUESTION: How do you feel about about American health care compared to Canada's system?
ANSWER: When it goes to doctor check-ups, [Canada's system] is a good thing, but it when it goes to complicated operations, when you get real sick, you get regulated there. I believe before this Obamacare, I think we had the best health-care system in the world, but it could have used some improvement and tweaking. I think we got to this place because a lot of these insurance companies when people started getting sick, the doctors inflated their prices to get money from the insurance companies. And when they inflated their prices, the insurance companies inflated theirs, and before you know it, it got out of control. I do not have health insurance, and I'm diabetic type II. Hey, I'd rather die free than live under tyranny. The thing is, I go to my specialist, and I said, "Hey, I'm a cash guy -- can you give me a discount?" He gave it to me. This week, I was out sick all week. I stayed home. I drank chicken soup. I called my doctor four times. He didn't call me back. So guess what? I can say screw you. I can go to another doctor and see if he'll take me. But if I was caught up with insurance companies, no.
Q: No health insurance? I take it you're single.
A: I'm married with two kids.
Q: Does that not scare you?
A: My kids have KidCare. It's a means-based insurance for kids. They look at what you make, and they charge according to what you make.
Q: So wait a minute... I'm paying for your kids' health insurance?
A: [pause] I have a private insurance... I want to say it's half-private and half-government. My wife did it; I'm not exactly sure. It's called KidCare. I had to send them my taxes and what I make, and I had to send them what the business was making because I work for myself, and according to what I make, they charge me. But I don't have any; my wife doesn't have any. But see, I can go to a doctor and negotiate prices. I found a lab, and they charge me $60 to see my blood levels for my diabetes. I pay $60 to see a doctor and $100 to see a specialist. I don't know how much these other people are paying. When I need teeth work and go to a dentist, I call and say how much do you charge instead of throwing the card down and saying charge as much as you want. That's where health care costs go up. The doctor is going to milk the insurance company, and the insurance company is going to milk the person.
Q: You do realize that if something catastrophic happens to you, then you will become a burden on the government and your fellow man.
A: We don't know that yet. What's catastrophic? Like I get run over by a Mack truck?
Q: Yes, and you survive and you're in intensive care for two months. That's going to cost how much? Let's say a half million. Who is going to pay that?
A: I assume part of it by the hospital. I assume part of it by the government. I may have to sell certain assets to pay it off. But this goes back to immigration. I'm a person who has been living in the United States for 46 years. I was born and raised here. I've been working, I've been paying taxes, I've been contributing to society. Now if somebody walks over the border and they're from, let's say Argentina, and they get hit by a Mack truck, do you think it's correct for the government to pay for them?
Q: Who else is going to pay for it if they can't?
A: Exactly. Should the Argentinian government be forced to pay for these people?
Q: I don't think the government can be held accountable for their citizens who left their borders.
A: But aren't there Argentinian assets we may be able to put a lien on and say, "Hey, this is one of your citizens, and you're going to have to pay for it.'?"
Q: Won't that just create another level of government bureaucracy you hate? You want a new Office of Argentinian Health Care Redistribution?
A: Back in the 1800s, there were a lot of Christian organizations, a lot of not-for-profit ogranizations that assisted people, and they were done by donations. And people would give --
Q: Let me say this: There ain't no Christian organization that is going to fix you if you get hit by a Mack truck, brother.
A: What happens if I die and my children become orphans; who is going to take care of them? Do they get thrown in an orphanage? Do they become like Oliver? See, I don't expect everybody to take care of me. But if I'm thrown on the side of the road, I think public policy would at least say, "Hey, pick him up, patch him up, and throw him back in his bed and let his wife take care of him." But the thing is that I understand there's no silver bullet, but there are some mitigating things we can do now so we don't go into bankruptcy.
Q: You are telling me that you don't have health insurance, so if you get hurt, I'm going to have to pick up your tab. I'm using your language. It's going to be me that pays for you, OK?
A: But what if I don't [get hit by a Mack truck]?
Q: But what if you do? You're also telling me that I'm subsidizing your kids' health insurance? Why should I do that? These are your arguments.
A: I would say you wouldn't.
Q: Well, I am.
A: You are. Now you're going to have to subsidize everyone else in the United States. So what do you think we should do?
Q: My opinion? I believe very strongly in a single payer national health-care system just like the rest of the goddamned civilized world has where we don't have to worry about this.
A: Basically what Obamacare is doing is basically guaranteeing that in 20 years, there will not be one private health insurance company left. It will be a one-payer system, the United States government, and everything the government does they ruin. [We got off on a discussion of public schools that I'll share later].
Q: A national health-care system has been talked about in this country for 50 years.
A: Yes, but those people are sympathetic to Chavez, Castro, and the Sandanistas.
Q: Richard Nixon backed a national health-care system. Who are you talking about?
A: I told you I don't like Republicans either. Ted Kennedy was for one, Chris Dodd was for another, Richard Nixon was sympathetic too. There's not going to be a Jesus coming and wave his hand and all the lepers are going to be free of leprosy, all the lame are going to run off. It's not going to happen. We have to debate ideas like you and I are doing right now. You've got people on MSNBC saying I'm stupid, that I'm kooky, that I'm nuts, and that I shouldn't be listened to because I've got a yellow T-shirt with a snake on there that says "Don't Tread on Me." Listen to what I have to say. Don't ridicule me. Look, when you make fun of Sarah Palin, you make fun of me, because Sarah Palin espouses the majority, not everything, but the majority of what she says I believe in, and if you're hitting her, you're hitting me. Because she's got the national forum, she's got the national stage, and she's bringing a lot of this up, they attack her. And when they attack her -- now forget the personal, Bristol, the kids and all that -- but when she gets up and says there are going to be death panels and they get up and get all upset, they start making fun, and they start attacking her. Now we got a guy from the New York Times who says we need death panels. What's his name, Krugman? He says we need death panels.
Q: Death panels is a scare term. What are you worried about death panels for anyway? You have no health insurance. And without health insurance, if you're in that situation, you're going to die, OK?
A: But if I'm going to die of diabetes or I want to die in my bed, that's the way it was done for years and years. People would just die in their beds, go quietly into the night. And when it was done, bury them in the backyard. I can't even be buried in my backyard. I own the land. Why?
Q: Is that part of the Tea Party platform, to let people be buried in backyards?
A: What happened in the Old West? You got run over by the stagecoach. They threw you in the bed, you would pay the doctor to come check you out, see what you can pay the doctor, make a deal and pay cash. Then your wife would put cold wraps on your head until you passed away or you were crippled for the rest of your life or you walked off with a limp. That's the choice that I make.
Q: I love that.
A: It's contrary to what you're used to hearing. That's the way I want to do it -- and I'll probably be kicking myself in the ass afterward. Look, I've negotiated with Broward General, and I paid it off. No insurance. I had a rotator cuff, and it was hurting, and I went into the office, and I made a deal with them. We negotiated the price. I went in there, and I was like, "Give me a break." Let's talk, let's negotiate. And now I don't owe them anything; I paid it off, no insurance.
Q: How much was it, if I might ask?
A: It came out to about $2,500, and I paid them so much each month. And then one month, I didn't have the money, but I went into the office, and I said. "Look, I don't have the money this month," but the supervisor said, "We appreciate you coming in and telling us you don't have the money. Most people would just ignore us -- but don't worry, I'll give you until next month." And the next month I came in and gave them 25 or 30 dollars extra. I just told them, "I don't have the money, but I'm not hiding from you."
Q: So it was $2,500 for a torn rotator cuff. Did they actually do surgery?
A: No, no, no. They gave me a shot. It's not like torn in half; it's got like a rip. So they gave me a shot for the swelling; that's what's making you hurt. I think I went to physical therapy to do exercises. But I was like, I can do this in my house. I got the things like rubber bands and put them on my door, did the exercises, and I picked myself up at my house.
Q: Well, my hat's off to you on that one. But it doesn't change the fact that Obamacare, as you call it, is really going to affect you. You're going to be one of the people who is going to be forced to buy health insurance.
A: I don't want to buy it. And do you think I should be punished because I don't want to buy it? You think the government should tell me, "You need to buy United States health insurance." Do you think it's constitutional for the government to say, "You need to buy United States government health care"? Forget about go find your own. "You need to buy United States Obamacare, or I'm going to put you in jail, or I'm going to fine the hell out of you. And if you don't pay the fine, you're going to jail." Get this: They are not going to put you in jail because you didn't pay the fine. They're going to do it like child support. You are in contempt of court; we ordered you to pay it; you didn't pay it. Thus, we are putting you in jail because you are in contempt of court, not because you didn't have the money. That's the way they get you in jail.
Q: I don't know about that. [Here's an interview with Obama on the topic.] But do you see the flip side here? The reason for that is that if you don't have health insurance, if you do get hit by that proverbial Mack truck, it will be the United States government that's going to bail you out. People are legally required to have auto insurance too.
A: Do you know how much they want for health insurance? They wanted $1,500 a month, and that was just for me. I can't pay that.