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Six Degrees of Medicare


I’ve been wondering about the fundamental difference between our modern crop of conservatives and progressives, when it comes to critical issues like healthcare and funding programs for the poor.  I suspect it has less to do with compassion and more to do with how we perceive the connections between us.

There’s a funny game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, in which any person can be connected to the actor Kevin Bacon using a chain of 6 or fewer links.  It doesn’t always work, but it does more often than you would think.  The point is not that Kevin Bacon is uniquely well-connected but that all of us are—the game should play just as easily between a random uninsured person in Alabama and the CEO of Aetna.

We are connected with each other.  If all these connections were visible, it would look like we were moving in a giant web.  Some of the threads between us, as in a family, would be thick as ropes—we can easily feel the tugs.  Others would be as thin and wispy as the filament from a house spider.  But even the most fragile connections, if we are paying attention, affect us.  When there are many such threads combined (think 51 million uninsured), the pull can knock us off our feet.

I take Feldenkrais lessons, a type of movement practice—I started lessons to help with arthritis pain.  What I’ve learned is that even the smallest, most subtle movement of one toe can be felt all the way up my spine.  The only way to keep that from happening is to tighten up other muscles, which results in pain.  The toe bone’s connected to the neck bone, after all!

Our connections to each other are similar.  Even something as simple as slowing to let another car merge on Memorial Parkway may change the mood of another driver, who may then have a better job interview.  An uninsured person who goes into bankruptcy and foreclosure will change her neighbor’s property value—many such persons will (and did) bring down our whole economy.  Whether they did something to deserve their fate or not is completely beside the point. 

It isn’t wise to reinforce the strands of our web with steel rods—good health requires some freedom of movement, maybe even dancing.  On the other hand, when we try to brace ourselves against feeling the movements of others, we do so at the cost of pain and loss of function for ourselves.  Can we cut the threads?  That’s no more possible than breaking the laws of physics.  To imagine otherwise is delusional.

Recognizing these multiple connections doesn’t actually require a particular moral value or advanced degree of compassion.  It takes only attention and practice.  I suppose it’s possible to become fully aware of the web and respond appropriately without ever caring much about anyone else.  But speaking as one who has experienced just a hint of it and who still has old muscle and mental habits to unlearn, I believe the only sane response is love.

What our conservative legislators have done and want to do to healthcare in the United States cannot break the web between us, but it will hurt everyone in it, conservatives and progressives alike.  A better plan?  National health insurance, birth to death, pre-paid, with no co-pays or deductibles, and no wasted insurer profit or overhead.  Medicare for All.  All of you are in this web with me—how will you move to change our direction?

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