The Old Man, the motto and the monopoly

Is there an asterisk after ‘Live Free’?

New Hampshire is small and mostly rural. We have a well-known motto, "Live Free or Die." Until May 2003, we had a famous landmark, the Old Man of the Mountain.

From 1,200 feet, the Old Man crashed down in the darkness of night and became a memory. Thousands of years of hard weathering eroded its place on the granite cliff.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in New Hampshire, our motto, our creed, suffered similar erosion. We have become less free — with scarcely a fight, let alone a battle cry.

According to Fortune magazine, WellPoint is "a massive health insurer." In late 2013, WellPoint, through its subsidiary, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, was granted total control over access to health care for those of us with no other option for health insurance.

From its exclusive position, WellPoint-Anthem dictated where, and from whom, tens of thousands of us could receive medical treatment. Health insurance does not equal health care.

"Dictated" is the proper word, because in no way was this a fair fight. Key elements of "live free" include fairness and equality and inclusion. But in this instance, size mattered. Money mattered.

In 2013, WellPoint reported revenues of $71 billion, or roughly more than 13 times the New Hampshire state budget. That same year, WellPoint acknowledged spending more than $11 million on lobbying — more than the New Hampshire Insurance Department’s budget.

WellPoint-Anthem eliminated insurance coverage for 12 of our state's 26 hospitals and for the health care providers associated with them. As widely reported, "Anthem lobbyist Paula Rogers told the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight committee … 'We’ve got 26 hospitals. Do we need 26 hospitals to serve the population we expect to see and still provide quality of care? We decided that we didn’t.'"

It is safe to assume that the "we" in this statement represents duty to shareholders – not to caregivers or care-needers, or to communities, or to constituents. Or "to doing no harm."

We were repeatedly assured from the beginning of the ACA that we could keep our doctors and our hospitals. We were promised choice. We were promised affordability. WellPoint-Anthem added a footnote to those promises to exclude our state — promises made by some important and powerful people in our national and state government. An asterisk was working its way next to our "live free" creed to denote its compromise, exception, erosion.

One of those hospitals not deemed necessary by WellPoint-Anthem is Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough. On the afternoon of February 10, an industrial accident resulted in an explosion at a factory that sent more than a dozen injured employees to MCH. Two were so severely injured that they were airlifted to major medical facilities in Massachusetts. All survived and all have now been released from hospitals.

Contrary to the assessment by WellPoint-Anthem, most of the injured, their families, and first responders are probably very certain of the value MCH delivered that day and for days afterwards. They do not doubt its "necessity."

Whether you call it Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, the operative word is care. And while many of us now pay health insurance premiums to WellPoint-Anthem, many still do not have access to health care, to new providers, or to our own doctors who delivered the continuity of care that is widely applauded for both its effectiveness and efficiency.

Health insurance does not equal health care.

Now is the time, before Election Day, for any incumbent or challenger, to free our state from a corporate stranglehold that limits our access to our own providers and excludes thousands of us from the promises of the Affordable Care Act — promises made from the highest levels of elected office that were broken in the boardroom.

Now is the time for candidates to exercise their best leadership skills. Craft the solution for now — executive orders, legislation, court injunctions, whatever. Deliver this now. Save lives. Earn votes.

Or change our motto to "Live Free* or Die."

Michael Justice is a resident of West Peterborough.

Categories: Opinion