Living the American Dream Shouldn't be Bad for Your Health (Care)

By FRANK CARINI

Julie Taylor left a well-paying corporate job to work on a farm. She and her family are happier, but their health-care coverage took a hit. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

Julie Taylor left a well-paying corporate job to work on a farm. She and her family are happier, but their health-care coverage took a hit. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — Julie Taylor recently escaped the hum of artificial light and stale air that dominates corporate America, when she traded in her well-paying job to pick weeds and fight off ticks.

But what made her decision so difficult wasn’t a fear of getting Lyme disease — though that is a concern of anyone who spends time outdoors. It was about health-care security for her family.

“Health-care costs were the big challenge,” the 40-year-old married mother of one said. “I had a great plan ... it’s not the same as before.”

ecoRI News recently spoke with Taylor at her new place of employment: Earth Care Farm. As birds chirped above and bees buzzed in the background, the Richmond resident was all smiles when discussing her mid-life career change. Her new job meshes nicely with her passions and allows the Virginia native to spend more time with her family.

Unfortunately, the Taylors had to sacrifice some of their health — a common problem in a country with a profit-focused system tied to employee health plans.

U.S. health care isn’t designed to ensure individual well-being; it’s about shareholder profit and golden parachutes. The United States spends more on health care than just about any country on the planet, but the results would get most CEOs fired.

Numerous studies and reports have shown just how expensive and profitable the U.S. health-care system really is. But those in power ignore facts for personal gain. The poor and less fortunate suffer.

The United States spends more per person on health care than 12 other high-income nations, while seeing the lowest life expectancy and some of the worst health outcomes among the group, according to a 2015 report.

The Commonwealth Fund analysis showed that in the United States, which spends an average of $9,086 per person on health care, life expectancy is 78.8 years. Switzerland, the second-highest spending country, spends $6,325 per person and has a life expectancy of 82.9 years. Mortality rates for cancer are among the lowest in the United States, but rates of chronic conditions, obesity and infant mortality are higher than those abroad.

Among the report’s other notable findings:

Prescription drugs are most expensive in the United States, with prices twice as high as in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

Prices for health services are considerably higher in the United States. On average, for example, heart bypass surgery costs $75,345 in the U.S., compared to $15,742 in the Netherlands, where the procedure is least expensive.

The United States spends the least on social services — only 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on social services such as disability benefits and employment programs. The United States was the only country studied where health-care spending accounted for a greater share of GDP than social-services spending. In contrast, France and Sweden spend 21 percent of GDP on social services.

This is the health-care system much of Congress and the Trump administration want to keep intact. Since late January, rich white guys have been on a rampage to repeal the slight gains made by the Affordable Care Act to make health care more available and affordable to all.

To them, the status quo that enables many of the highest corporate earners in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to be health-care and pharmaceutical company CEOs is more important than affordability.

Protecting a system that allows 75 percent of tax-exempt organizations that provided compensation packages of $1 million or more in 2014 to be involved in health care is more important than access. Keeping compensation sky high for CEOs of nonprofit insurance companies — Ascension Health and Northwell Health, for example, both paid their presidents more than $10 million — is more important than adequately funding Medicaid.

Both Taylor and her husband, Chris, were once employed in the biotech industry. Her husband of nearly six years was the first to leave. In fact, his career change is why they now live in Rhode Island. The Pennsylvania native left the world of corporate cubicles to study at the Newport-based IYRS School of Technology & Trades (International Yacht Restoration School). He now works as a shipwright just over the Rhode Island line in Connecticut.

When Taylor decided to make a career switch to farming, after 11 years of corporate biotech work, she and Chris cashed out a retirement fund and refinanced their mortgage. They slashed their discretionary spending.

Eating out less and going on less-expensive vacations is hardly a sacrifice, but downgrading health-insurance coverage, especially when you have a 4-year-old daughter, is downright scary.

Access to quality health care shouldn’t be the biggest barrier to living the American Dream. Sadly, it is, and Washington, D.C., is diligently working to build an even bigger wall.

Trumpcare, as designed by House Republicans, for instance, would effectively keep 52 million Americans with pre-existing medical conditions held hostage by their current employers.

Free from their 9-to-5 chains, the Taylors are now covered by Chris’ employer’s health-insurance plan. But a nonprofit museum that doesn’t compensate its CEO with millions in stock options doesn’t attract and keep workers with outstanding health-care benefits, because it can’t afford to — just like the small farm that now employees Taylor.

Taylor began working at Earth Care Farm in late March. She loves it. Her official title is office manager, but besides dealing with customers and balancing the books, the gardening enthusiast weeds, mulches, and helps maintain the farm’s fields, native flower beds — to attract pollinators — and vegetable gardens.

Taylor said her previous job at a Rhode Island biotech company paid well, offered good benefits and employed great people, but “I wasn’t feeding my soul. I get my energy from being outdoors, growing things and getting my hands dirty. It was a quality-of-life decision.”

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.