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The road to hell

Back on December 31, 2013, I put up a post about a New York Times article in which it was reported that Americorps volunteers were losing their health insurance plans because of Obamacare, much to their chagrin.

In reading the article, the quote that stood out to me was this one from one volunteer named Sarah Sklaw.

Sarah L. Sklaw, a 22-year-old Vista member from New York City, said: “I really support the Affordable Care Act, and I don’t want to be a naysayer. But it was surprising and frustrating to be told that our health coverage would not meet the law’s standards, especially because the Corporation for National and Community Service told us at orientation in August that we did not need to worry about the issue.”

My reaction? “In other words, she supported Obamacare, partly because she was told “if she liked her health plan, she could keep her health plan. Period.” She has now discovered that this was a lie and is angry. Who wudda thunk it?”

Last week Sarah Sklaw emailed me. She was very unhappy about my post because in her mind I misrepresented her feelings about the situation. This is her email:

My name is Sarah Sklaw. I’m an Americorps member from New York City. Perhaps my name is familiar to you as on December 31st of last year you wrote a blog post where you pulled a quote of mine from a New York Times article. However, in quoting me you represented my opinion and then drew your own incorrect conclusions about me, my feelings towards the Affordable Care act and my own insurance.

While I highly doubt that a website of such dubious quality as yours posts corrections, I would like to offer you a few.

1. I do still have insurance, I have not lost it on account of ACA. 2. My insurance falls short of the ACA mandates. For example, I do not have care for preexisting conditions. I believe this is a real shortcoming of my insurance and I support the guidelines for insurance laid out by ACA. 3. I do not hold the Obama administration responsible for this shortcoming. Rather, I believe this is a problem that my employer must address. If, as is the case for me, an employer promises to offer coverage and then their coverage falls short of ACA, it is their responsibility to bring coverage into line with ACA mandates, not put the burden of finding external insurance on the employed.

Finally, I live in Louisiana. I make just over the federal poverty line. This is because I knowingly took a position that pays this stipend in exchange for other benefits. If I lived in a state that had raised the limit for medicaid I would be covered. Unfortunately Louisiana does not believe that people are entitled to live lives free of illness or crippling debt brought about by paying for medical expenses. I guess you don’t either.

Please take down the post in which you quote me or I will contact the copyright department at the New York Times.


My response was as follows:

First to clarify some assumptions and misrepresentations that you make that need correcting:

1. I always post corrections, if one is warranted. I do it whenever necessary. To snidely accuse me of not doing so beforehand is quite impolite and somewhat insulting, to put it mildly. It is hardly the most effective technique for civilized discussion.

2. My use of your quote from the New York Times’ article is not a copyright violation. It falls under fair use. I quoted only a tiny part of the article, and then provided a link to the article itself. If you want to contact them about this go right ahead, but it will accomplish you nothing.

3. If I understand you correctly, your real complaint is that I interpreted your quote incorrectly. … From your own words, “surprising and frustrating,” I gathered that you were unhappy with Obamacare and angry that it did not do as promised. From your email above, however, it instead appears you are quite happy about Obamacare, even though it did not solve your medical financial problems, as promised. [Ed. I must add now that it appears her real problem is that her employer doesn’t wish to take on the added burden of the Obamacare mandates, and has passed that responsibility onto her. Thus, her complaint really is that the law didn’t force them to provide these additional mandates. Moreover, I suspect if they did provide them and then charged her more for them, she would then have complained about the added expense, expecting them to be given to her for free.]

I will be glad to publish a clarification, but in doing so I am going to quote your email, extensively, and comment on it. You see, I think your continued support of this terrible law is a mistake, and should be highlighted, especially considering the millions of Americans it is hurting terribly. Do you not care about them?

4. Having said this, however, I must tell you emphatically that I will not take down my post under any conditions, especially under threat. First, I did not misquote you, unless the New York Times did so. I quoted what they published exactly as they published it. If the quote is wrong you better take that up with the New York Times. If they issue a correction and you let me know about it, I will then be glad to issue a correction as well.

In case you have forgotten, there is something called the first amendment. You might not like what I have to say, but I have the unequivocal right to say it. You can disagree with me, and in fact, you are welcome to comment on my webpage yourself, after I publish my clarification. However, you must live with the fact that others might not agree with you and might comment as well.

One more point: I find it tragic and depressing that you think your medical expenses should be paid for by someone else. I grew up under the premise that we are each personally responsible for our lives, and should be ashamed if we are forced to go “on the dole.” Sadly, you seem to be proud of doing such a thing.

With all due respect,

As always, if you demand that people treat each other with respect, and do the same to them, they respond properly. Her next email, far more civil, was as follows:

Thank you. I appreciate your willingness to make corrections. You are welcome to quote my email directly. I just ask that you account for my typo that I corrected in the response email. You are correct in noting that this is a misinterpretation, not a misquote. Additionally, I presume that means I have the right to publish your email as well.

I am surprised and frustrated by my employer. Not by Obamacare. I believe that healthcare is a fundamental right. I am quite lucky that I was born healthy and have not had any medical financial problems. That does not mean that I do not empathize with the people who have.

I am aware that some previously covered individuals have had to undergo changes to their insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. To say it is hurting them terribly is a massive overstatement. I do care about them and I believe that if the Congress could open debate about Obamacare and making necessary changes to the law (which is a law and has been ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court) without try[ing] to repeal it then those issues could be addressed.

I do not need your pity about “going on the dole.” I believe we have a fundamental disagreement about the role of welfare in American society. In my opinion it is much more embarrassing that as a nation we have levels of inequality unseen since the gilded age, concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority that influences undue control over our government and a corporate class willing to pay their employees such a tiny sum that they force them onto welfare while raking in astronomical profits. This, in my opinion is corporate welfare. In the US we stigmatize individuals who get assistance from the government for food, medical expenses and shelter but laud those who get it to increase the size of their coffers. To act as if welfare is unnecessary is to ignore centuries of unequal treatment and marginalization in the US. To say that we are each “responsible for our own lives,” is to ignore the impact of systematic privileges and inequalities. This fallacy may have had some relevancy fifty years ago but to act as if it is still the case in a country with the lowest economic mobility in the western world is to be ignorant of the state contemporary economy.

Furthermore to act as if other individuals were not responsible for subsidizing the healthcare of the uninsured before Obamacare is incorrect. The ER cannot turn away people. Thus poor and uninsured individuals would go to the ER (the most expensive place to get treatment) after their illness had progressed instead of seeing a primary care doctor and treating the illness early on. The cost for this ER visit (which uninsured individuals could not possibly afford) would then be passed along to insured individuals through higher premiums.

I respect your opinion that the Affordable Care Act is flawed. I do not respect the liberty you took in misinterpreting my quote.


I am not here to debate at length Sarah’s beliefs. For example, I think she would be surprised if I told her that I agree with her about corporate welfare. I think the government should stop giving away my money to a lot of private entities. I think the government should also stop taking it from me in the first place, so that I can decide where it should go.

Nonetheless, as she says, we have a “fundamental disagreement.” She wants the government to have more power in order to force people to do as she wishes, which is to provide everyone free healthcare. I in turn wish the government would get out of this entirely, and let people freely deal with it on an open market.

I must say, however, that her very sincere good intentions to provide everyone free healthcare can only lead us to one place, and it ain’t a place anyone would want to go willingly, if they realized that was their destination.

We are heading there, unfortunately. The nation now has too many people like Sarah who firmly believe it reasonable and fair to force others to pay for things they strongly feel they have the right to have. And since this is a belief, not rationally worked out, you can’t easily dissuade them from it.

Unfortunately, people like Sarah will only learn the failure of their belief once we arrive at our destination, as have millions learned in Russia, Germany, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere where similar idealistic leaders with great power tried also to force society to do things that are simply not natural or practical in the real world, all on the basis of good intentions and sincere utopian ideology.


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  • wodun

    She not only wants to force businesses to provide insurance but every little thing insurance covers. And she appears perfectly ok with forcing individuals to also purchase insurance that has to meet her ideological requirements. Is it any wonder that she initially tried to force you through threats to take down the blog post?

    I bet she thinks the IRS was just doing their job too and doing it well.

    “I am aware that some previously covered individuals have had to undergo changes to their insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. To say it is hurting them terribly is a massive overstatement. ”

    Hey lady, I lost my insurance and the replacement plan saw a deductible increase of 222% making it so that I will never hit the deductible unless I need quadruple bypass or chemo. My new plan has maternity care and dental for children, neither of which do I have but they are mandated coverages. So my premiums are subsidizing other people’s wives and kids. Why should a bronze plan be subsidizing other people with silver and gold plan health care?

    Not only that but I lost my doctor after many assurances by Obama and the media that I wouldn’t. After almost two months without my doctor being covered, they were suddenly back in the network because people were so upset about getting jerked around by these politicians. During that time I was shopping for both new insurance and a new doctor and during that time I was unable to be treated for my pre-existing conditions. I was lucky but other people in my situation had to either find new doctors or new insurance companies.

    I don’t blame businesses for what happened because it was politicians, Obama and the Democrats specifically, that created this mess. To the extent that insurance companies are to blame for this is because they collaborated with the Democrats in writing the legislation, lobbying for its passage, and acting as the PR arm of the Democrat party promoting it to the public. Democrats get a lot of money from the health insurance industry so why wouldn’t they mandate everyone buy their products?

    To say that people are not being negatively affected by Obamacare is not only a massive overstatement but dishonest.

    “I do care about them and I believe that if the Congress could open debate about Obamacare and making necessary changes to the law”

    First of all, Republicans have offered lots of legislation that would have delayed in individual mandate or other parts of Obamacare for a year. Obama said he would veto anything that made it to his desk and he even shut down the federal government rather than delay the rollout of Obamacare, which clearly wasn’t ready to be implemented.

    “(which is a law and has been ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court) without try[ing] to repeal it then those issues could be addressed.”

    I can not seriously believe you said that. Slavery was once the law to so it isn’t like unjust laws can’t be changed. Also, how can it unchangeable as “the law” when Obama changes it as a whim with Presidential Dictates?

  • danae

    Ms. Sklaw’s messages perfectly embody the entitlement mentality, the concomitant resentments and naive belief in the perfectibility of society through the agency of government. “…Louisiana does not believe that people are entitled to live lives free of illness….” Lives free of illness. Bad, bad Louisiana!

    She speaks of the U.S. as “…a country with the lowest economic mobility in the western world….” This is a canard frequently trotted out by progressives. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to compare income distribution between countries in absolute dollars because there are too many variables and omissions in reported statistics to make that feasible. Differences in country and population size, demographics, range of purchasing power between top and bottom quintiles, tax liabilities and credits, percentage of GDP spent on transfer payments and in-kind services, the value/quality of those services, employer-paid benefits, etc. These differences are not taken into account, and the list of missing factors goes on and on. The truth is that roughly 40% of those born into the top tier of income distribution in America stay there, and 40% of those born on the bottom rung of the income ladder do the same. The 60% of people in the quintiles in between move up or down according to a different set of variables irrelevant to Ms Sklaw’s assertion.

    What we lack, as a country, is grown-ups.

  • danae

    Sorry, the last sentence should read, “The people in the quintiles in between….”

  • Pzatchok

    I think everyone, especially out poor Sarah, has missed the big gorilla in the room on this.

    The Corporation for National and Community Service or AmeriCorps is a federal government organization not a private group or company.
    Started by Bill Clinton and run by our present head honcho, Barack Obama.

    Even Sarah has seemed to forget that Barack only needs make a phone call and AmeriCorps will have its insurance upped to everything she and the ACA expects.

    Sarah needs to start putting the blame on her boss. Barack Obama.

  • Pzatchok

    In fact as a federally funded group it should already be required to comply with the ACA fully.

    But I bet if we dig a bit deeper I bet AmeriCorp got an exemption.

  • Publius 2

    Excellent comments. I also was struck by her statement: “Louisiana does not believe that people are entitled to live lives free of illness or crippling debt brought about by paying for medical expenses. I guess you don’t either.”

    This, in a nutshell, is contemporary American liberalism. It can be reduced to the following sentence: “Hey, you! Get over here and help this person!” In other words, this person should be helped, but only others should do something about it. Our Founding Fathers, wisely, limited our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Setting aside the fact that most liberals do not agree with the right to life, there is nothing in the Constitution, our foundation of laws, that speaks of a right to good health. But all of this is beside the point. Ms. Sklaw seems unable to detach her enmity and disdain from insurance companies (many of which are non-profit organizations, by the way — Blue Cross/Blue Shield being the most prominent example) while casting no righteous indignation toward the thousands of federal bureaucrats, all making six figures in salary and benefits, that are administering this monstrosity of a healthcare plan and raising its costs considerably.

    I would recommend that Ms. Sklaw take the time to read the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. She might find within its 2,700 pages many reasons why this legislation, particularly as administered by this president, is an assault not only on liberty but also on the health and well-being of all Americans.

    As you, Robert, and other commenters have attempted to advise her, this approach to law and society has been tried time and again over the past century. Each time, it has led only to hardship and misery. So perhaps in addition to reading the law she supports, she might also want to study Socialism’s sorry history in the world.

  • Cotour

    Dubious quality !?

    That’s what struck me and made me laugh out loud, that’s personal and hurt full if I understand the standards adhered to on this site. I totally understand her perspective though, people who think or thought they thought as she does ask me every day to clarify and guide them on such matters as is being addressed in this piece.

    My observation is that the people of America, until they are directly affected by the politicians that they vote for and empower can draw a clear line between them and the money or freedom that is being taken away from them personally they have the luxury of existing in an unconscious myopic state and can drink the Kool aid.

    This woman is an indoctrinated and true believer, eats and absorbs everything that the president utters and is unaware of history or the nature of what she is so upset about.

    Dubious quality, look at the NYT if you want to find agenda and dubious quality, not here.

  • Edward

    Many people misinterpret what a ‘right’ is. They believe that any right must be paid for by someone else. If that were the case, then our first amendment rights would require that we get free ads in print and in broadcast media, that our religious activity be free (e.g. no tithing), and that we be issued free firearms.

    We still have the right to free speech; we just have to pay for the newspaper space or airtime. That is fair enough. We still have the right to healthcare and once had the right to its insurance (see below, as I explain how it is no longer a right); we just have to pay for it. I know of no one who was turned away from needed healthcare in this country, but they may have chosen to not pay for it and voluntarily left the doctor or hospital without treatment, just as many have not paid for ads to express their opinions.

    Upon reading the Constitution, and specifically the Bill of Rights, I see that the only right that costs people, other that ourselves, is the right to a trial by jury, where our peers are required to expend part of their valuable time determining whether a defendant is in the wrong.

    A right to something does not mean that it should be free. Under such a definition, we would not have a right to healthcare, as we are now required – *required* – to buy insurance for it. Indeed, health insurance is no longer a right but a duty, as is jury duty. It is not free for us. Even those who receive subsidies must first pay for the insurance and hope that they receive the subsidy later.

    And thus we have been thrust, by the president’s (and Sarah Sklaw’s) good intention, onto the road to hell.

    “In my opinion it is much more embarrassing that as a nation we have levels of inequality unseen since the gilded age, concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority that influences undue control over our government and a corporate class willing to pay their employees such a tiny sum that they force them onto welfare while raking in astronomical profits. This, in my opinion is corporate welfare.”

    What an interesting definition of welfare. Sarah failed to show where the corporations are being given money or give an example of corporate employees on welfare. Indeed, those corporations are doing more for their employees than they would get “on the dole.” Otherwise, unless they believed in the corporate mission, they would not be working for those corporations but would be sitting at home collecting welfare. Her logic seems to have failed her.

    What does she have to say about the national government’s treatment of its employees? The military pays so little that many of those families really *are* “on the dole.” (Why do they volunteer for the military? Because they believe in the mission.) Why does she think that the corporations’ treatment of people should be better than the government’s treatment of them?

    The best way to eliminate “corporate welfare” is to repeal the 16th Amendment. Then the national government would be unable to afford to give welfare to corporations, and they would take less (or none) from you, Bob, as it is only that amendment which allows them to. (I know that it will never happen, but I dream big.)

    “I must say, however, that her very sincere good intentions to provide everyone free healthcare can only lead us to one place, and it ain’t a place anyone would want to go willingly, if they realized that was their destination.”

    Even free healthcare has a cost. Not only does someone have to pay for it (at the very least, the doctor is either paid or he pays for it with volunteer time), but the quality also suffers in order to reduce costs. That is already happening in the policies offered through the ACA exchanges. The best hospitals and the best doctors are not covered by those plans, because they cost too much.

    The “free” healthcare in Canada is so bad that they are letting private practices, paid for by the patient, back in that country. There are tales that in Britain, ambulances are required to park away from the hospital until such time that the quota (so many ambulances in a certain amount of time) is freed up for the ambulance to arrive without violating that quota. Where is the quality in that delayed care?

    As with Wodun, above, I lost my insurance. The replacement was so expensive with such a high deductible that I can save money by going uninsured; within six short years, I will break even on a $100,000 hospital bill – and that does not take into account the higher premium prices that are being suggested starting next year. And just as with Wodun, the replacement policy wanted to treat me as a hermaphrodite. I am not a hermaphrodite. How is this unaffordable insurance *not* harming me, Wodun, and others in the same situation?

    The ACA may have been declared constitutional, but that does not mean that it really is. After all, we may have depended upon a tyrannical government, willing to ignore or misinterpret the constitution, to determine whether such tyranny is constitutional.

    And don’t get me started on the tyranny of a government coercing us to buy something, whether we want it or not. Or the mess that the ACA has made of the hours people work and the added jobs and hours that they will have to work due to reduced work weeks and higher health insurance costs. Or other economic calamities that are befalling us due to this heinous law. Or the disregard for religious freedoms that are being applied through the ACA.

  • Pzatchok

    In my opinon Sarah needs to grow up a bit.

    First she thinks she is a volunteer for AmeriCorp. Sorry Sarah but you are not.
    You are being a paid wage you agreed to work for. Just like all of us who work for a living.
    You are even being given health benefits. Granted your boss made a deal with the government to not bring them up to legal standards but thats between you and your boss.
    The company I work for has always given benefits and they always beat the ACA standards.

    Sarah you are as much a volunteer as the solders you look down on. The only difference between the both of you is they get more training and better benefits.

    As for your ideas of wealth disparity. You are WAY off. You have no clue how it was back in the gilded age. Comparing our poor to the poor back during the depression is not even possible.
    Just the changes in the labor laws since then make any comparison impossible.
    The technological advancement in EVERY facet of life since then makes any comparison just silly.
    Toilet paper wasn’t even common in every household until after the depression when new plumbing was being installed into every home.
    Want to live like they did back then and see what it was like? Just try going a month with no phone, radio, TV, toilet paper, a car, and your education after grade school.

  • ken anthony

    I think we should let Sarah know that we commend her on her willingness to engage in civilized debate. We debate because we disagree but that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable. Our host here is also good enough to let Sarah know we are not in complete disagreement. It’s always good to find common ground and principles to build on.

    So thank you Sarah. Maturity is a never ending process for all of us.

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