Politics & Policy

The Great Uninsured

A meditation on the covereds and the uncovereds, and other things.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 24, 2006, issue of National Review.

America has a new persecuted minority. The Great Unwashed have been replaced by the Great Uninsured.

The word “uninsured” has taken on the freighted tonality of “unemployed,” “deadbeat,” “indigent,” and even “homeless.” The next time you hear someone confess to having no health coverage, check out the ever-so-slight pause in his listener’s voice. Watch for the slow blink, the quick wiping clean of alarmed features back to bland American acceptance. We’re good at this; nobody can do the pause-blink-wipe number like an American.

There are as yet no generally known anti-uninsured slurs, but if I know anything about the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth they are bound to emerge. Maybe we will call them “sickniks”; maybe we will call them “toddies” for the hot lemonade and whiskey they take for double pneumonia; or maybe “branders” after those characters in westerns who cauterize their own wounds.

The slur that comes closest to describing how Americans view the uninsured is “poor white trash,” but we have been so worked over by the goons of political correctness that we are now in the grip of a terrified need to make everything we say sound inclusive, even slurs. “Poor white trash” would have to be tarted up to “poor white trash of all races and classes” before anyone would touch it, so if you want to take out inclusion coverage before you run down the Great Uninsured, it’s best to stick with Marie Antoinette’s “them.”

The uninsured always were “them.” What we are dealing with here are reincarnated attitudes that go further back than most people now alive can remember. But I do remember them, and that’s what got me started on the subject of insurance.

Rest assured that I am not going to write about insurance per se. That requires a natural ear for droning that I lack; a numbers cruncher’s visceral need to drizzle “%” signs all over the page; and, of course, the technical knowledge to criticize HillaryCare and BushCare. I can’t do that. As Samuel Johnson said of the plot of Cymbeline, “It is impossible to criticize unresisting imbecility . . .”

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