Freedom Fries

With a new U.S. President coming into the White House, we are left to ponder about the previous President, George W. Bush. Without a doubt the Bush Administration left us with a legacy that has particularly reshaped our view of freedom. I believe one of the most memorable reform during Bush’s presidency was the congressional legislature that changed the name French Fries to “Freedom” Fries (let’s not forget Freedom Toasts).

Let’s think about this for a minute. The French disagree with our decision to pursue war in Iraq and so to get back at them the government legislates a name change for fast food? What were they hoping to do? Hurt the French’s feelings? At the time, I thought this was ridiculous! I’m paying taxes so politicians can get paid to rename French fries!

Looking back, however, I’m beginning to become fond of Freedom Fries. In fact, I find it very appropriate and reflective of American freedom. After all, fries are a symbol for America. Freedom and fries just might belong together. Fries are cooked in fatty oils. They reflect America’s high rate of obesity. We may be fat, but we are free! Freedom gives us the right to eat whatever we want in whatever quantity. We are free to be obese. Free to be unhealthy. Free to go to McDonalds.

As I think more about it, freedom fries reflect more than just our health. It is also indicative of our health care system. We have a broken health care system that is based not on a person’s wellbeing but on revenue and the bottom line. Freedom maintains that health insurance providers can do whatever they want. My wife and I are struggling with finding affordable health insurance because she has pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies don’t need to cover such people. Those that must cover them, after every insurance company has denied them, do so but at a much higher cost. A cost, I’m afraid, we cannot afford.

Of course, this is not a problem for citizens that have a good income. But for the rest of us, who are struggling to pay bills and circumstantial debt, affording good health insurance is not quite easy. Approximately 15% of American adults under 65 are underinsured, meaning they are not covered for all medical situations. These people not only pay a premium but also pay high deductibles, co-payments and out of pocket expenses for medical coverage, driving most of them deeper into debt. Many just don’t go to the doctor or are unable to pay for recommended treatments. About 25% of American adults under 65 are uninsured. So let’s put this in perspective. Approximately 40% of non-elderly adults are either underinsured or lack insurance coverage altogether. That’s 75 million people; 25% of our population.

But hey, this is the cost of freedom right? Soldiers aren’t the only ones exhorted to sacrifice their lives for the sake of our freedom. We’re called to do the same with our health. Rather than being concerned about health, the buck comes first. I heard a conservative politician talk about how we have the best health care system in the world; that health insurance is accessible to every person. I commend the man for cautiously choosing his words. Indeed anyone can access health insurance. But the politician failed to mention that health insurance is not affordable for every person.

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us “the poor will always be with you, so take care of them.” I would interpose that the sick will also always be with us, so we should take care of them. After all, when Jesus came to heal the sick, he didn’t just heal the spiritually sick but also the physically sick. He calls us to do the same. Let me transform this into a humanistic argument: if our government is of the people, by the people and for the people, then they have a responsibility to take care of its people, which includes all people. I’m a fan of universal health insurance. But if there’s a better model that will make sure everyone is covered at a price that all people can afford, then by all means let’s make it happen.

By the way, I don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that the brokenness of our health care system is Bush’s fault. It isn’t. And I despise the rhetoric of Democrats who blame him for our poor health insurance policies. Democrats have done nothing to better the system.

I have to say this: if we can’t afford anything else, at least we can afford freedom fries. A few bites of these delicious, crispy French-cut potatoes will make one temporarily forget the complex issues that inflict our revenue-centered capitalism.