Never argue politics with a cat

Jeffrey Denny

I was yelling at the newspaper the other day while reading about the failed Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort when the cat walked up.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” the cat asked.

“Never mind,” I said. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Just take it bird by bird,” cat said. He was referring to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, in which she advises to solve writing and other problems one bit at a time instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the task.

So I explained how Trump and the GOP Congress tried to [blah blah blah blah blah blah].

“I get it,” cat said. “They promised their cats that they would throw out the old cat toys and get new ones, but they couldn’t agree on which new toys.”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“You know, Jeff, you humans make everything so complicated. Want to fix healthcare? It’s quite simple. Let Geico do it.”

“Let Geico do what?”

“Take over the healthcare system. Run it like car insurance.”

“Right,” I said, turning to the comics page. “People have been saying that for years. It sounds good but it doesn’t work.”

“Hear me out,” the cat said. “Don’t dismiss. You’re very quick to dismiss just because I’m a cat.”

He laid out his key points:

· Every driver, by law, has to buy car insurance, which spreads out the risk and lowers the cost.

· Good drivers get a break for being good drivers.

· Bad drivers pay more, so they have a monetary incentive to be better drivers.

· When you have an accident, you shop around for the best repairs for the best price, which imposes consumer buying power to improve quality and lower costs.

· Same with buying car insurance. The choices are plenty and competition is stiff. That’s why the Geico, Allstate, State Farm, Progressive and Farmers ads are everywhere promising better service and lower prices.

“Yeah, but …,” I sputtered.

He reached up and put his little paw on my mouth.

“Hush. Let me finish. Remember your recent experience with Geico?”

Yes I do. It was great.

Last winter, after a heavy snowfall and quick melt, a mound of ice and snow slipped off my house and fell on my car in the driveway. It caved in the roof and dappled the hood and hatch.

I called Geico, a human being answered, and we set up an appointment the next day for the assessor at the Geico facility nearby. I drove over, pulled up, an unusually friendly and helpful staff checked me in, the assessor did his thing and gave me an estimate and a check. Time elapsed: About 20 minutes.

Then I took the car to the manufacturer’s authorized body shop. Its estimate much was higher than Geico’s. They fought it out. Geico managed to reduce my out-of-pocket by thousands of dollars and even sent me $900 because I didn’t use the rental car coverage. At every step, Geico was reachable, helpful, communicative and informative, and I felt they were my advocate. After a couple of months, the car was finished, good as new.

“So you’re happy with Geico, right?” cat said.

“Sure. Been with them 16 years.”

“If Geico were a Bronze choice on your healthcare exchange, would you pick them?”

“I’d definitely consider it.”

“Then case closed.”

“No,” I said. “Case not closed. Health insurance and auto insurance are as different as … as Friskies and Tidy Cats.”

I found and shared a passage from Human Events magazine:

“The next time some thoughtless liberal decides to compare auto insurance with health care, let’s turn it around and ask them why the government doesn’t mandate the purchase of car insurance for every American as soon as they’re born, including government-defined mandatory benefits including routine oil changes and tune-ups, with no surcharge for high-risk drivers with bad records. Failure to comply could result in a ‘tax penalty,’ which the government could use to fund high-speed rail projects.”

My main point to the cat — my teaching moment — was not really to reject his car insurance idea, but that while everyone has a perfect plan to fix the healthcare system, there is no perfect plan.

The healthcare system pre-Obamacare was not perfect. Everyone hated it, it was a complete disaster and becoming more of a crisis every day.

Obamacare isn’t perfect. Certainly not to Republicans, even though the concept was born at the conservative Heritage Foundation and first implemented by a Republican governor who the GOP later nominated for president. At least Obamacare shifted blame from the insurance companies and doctors to Obama, not to mention covering people who need it most.

Berniecare — “Medicare for everyone” — isn’t perfect. Maybe to his young supporters who think the best of everything should be available and free all the time because that’s been the deal all their lives, plus they’re young and healthy and don’t worry about healthcare. They’ll have to wait until they’re running Congress because single-payer is a non-starter in today’s political environment, so easily distorted and smeared (“socialism!” is just the start) that the alt-right media, hit groups and attack ad makers salivate at the prospect and resulting cash flow.

The House and Senate GOP repeal/replace plans certainly weren’t perfect, not even to the House and Senate GOP. Everyone knew they’d throw millions of people off insurance and drive up healthcare costs for people who can least afford it, which did not make for good talking points. But they had spent years trashing Obamacare and promised voters they’d come up with something much, much better. Voters believed and elected them. And gosh darn it, promises are promises.

That’s why, to me, the GOP had no choice but to keep going through the motions with a straight face, and hope the Fox bloviators and alt-right media choir would keep fooling the flyover folks and divert their anger back at Obama, Hillary and government-loving liberals. Fortunately, common sense prevailed. Now we’re back to improving Obamacare.

“So if we want a better healthcare system,” I said to the cat, “we can’t make perfect the enemy of the good.” (I pronounced it “purrrrr-fect” just to tweak him.) “Right now, Obamacare, like Churchill’s quip about American democracy, is the worst choice except for all the others.

“Healthcare reform is like the proverbial balloon,” I continued, mounting my soapbox, “when you squeeze it at one end, it pops out at the other. Every solution creates a different problem.

“Some say we shouldn’t worry about making sure everyone has coverage because healthcare is not a Constitutional right. Others believe a strong nation is a healthy nation because it takes care of its people. And a healthy nation also is fiscally responsible because it lowers healthcare expenditures. That’s a philosophical issue, I know.

“But as a practical matter, if we throw millions of people off health insurance by kicking the legs out from under Obamacare, many will go back to using the hospital emergency room for care, and when they’re sicker. Or more will go medically bankrupt, hitting Medicaid harder. Or by the time they age into Medicare, they’re in really bad shape and costlier to care for. In any of these cases, we all pay. So the issue is really, how best to manage the cost of healthcare for everyone and the system?

“As a personal matter,” I told the cat, “We’re screwed here if Trump takes steps to sabotage Obamacare and disrupt the healthcare market, like denying payments to insurers or failing to enforce the individual mandate that spreads out the risk and cost (like car insurance does). We don’t have employer health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid here, or qualify for subsidies. We get our insurance from the DC Obamacare exchange. If Trump screws around to please his base, our rates and out-of-pocket costs will skyrocket. Let me break this down: That means no more Royal Canin wet food with hairball control for you. It’s strictly Dollar General generic kibble.”

Cat looked at me like he didn’t hear or understand a word I said. “Car insurance,” he replied. “That’s the right model for health insurance.”

Arrrggghhh! It’s maddening to discuss healthcare policy with the cat. Forget tax, immigration, foreign or any other policy. Once he gets an idea in his head, nothing can change or even open his mind to other views. Not facts — he selects his own and rejects yours. Not knowledge or experience — he thinks experts are clueless or corrupted elites. Not even reason supported by a preponderance of evidence can move the cat— the more wrong he is, the more he just digs in and doubles down. It really sticks in my craw.

But then I remember: Who’s the ignorant one here? The cat? Or the guy who argues politics with a cat?”

I know who he thinks it is.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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