Friday, September 13, 2013

Nonupdate on Make Whole

(for the background on this post click here and here.)

I started writing this post in May, but I have had a hard time finishing it because it leads me to some pretty dark places, as you will see. It turns out my Master’s degree in Political Science did not come with a stomach for involvement in actual politics.

My representative did introduce a bill in March (HB 2006). When I read the text, I realized that the legislation was only directed at auto insurance subrogation, and not health insurance. I called my representative’s office, and her assistant explained that this had been a strategic decision, made in consultation with the Oregon T.rial L.awyers Association. Apparently, a bill aimed at health insurers has about zero chance of passage, but a softer, gentler version affecting only auto insurance subrogation had been introduced in the past five sessions and had come close to passing in 2011. They offered me the opportunity to introduce another bill that included health insurers, but it would have no official backing from any group or organization.

I spoke on the phone with the lobbyist for the trial lawyers, who explained that their organization had identified their legislative priorities long before I was in the picture, and while they understood the problem and supported a Make Whole doctrine, they did not want to dilute their other efforts by putting their name on a bill that was essentially a nonstarter. He explained history of their work on this issue and the political climate in Salem, where health insurers will unleash an army of lobbyists to put down even the smallest threat to their bottom line, regardless of what is fair. I really appreciated him taking the time to talk with me and I have no hard feelings against this organization - they do really important work. (Here's a story about the bill they were focusing on this session, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate.)

Nearly three years after losing Seamus, I still walk around feeling like I have this bomb that I could drop into any conversation. Telling people my son died usually makes people pay attention to me, for better or for worse. I think I hoped this would translate into some degree of political power. After all, legislators - even lobbyists - are humans, parents. All I would have to do is show them a picture of Seamus, tell them about how vulnerable this accident made our family, and they would all picture themselves in my shoes and melt into agreement. Unfortunately humans, particularly the Republican kind, are not so uniformly compassionate.

It’s worth noting that this was all playing out at the same time the Sandy Hook families were getting the finger from the US Senate, the majority of whom voted against modest gun control legislation even as those incredibly brave and still grieving parents looked on. I spent a lot of time brooding over our shared experience of losing a child, followed by realization that our grief cannot be leveraged into any kind of meaningful change, not even when it involves a murderous rampage, 20 dead children and the unrelenting glare of the media spotlight, not to mention overwhelming support in public opinion. This is an incredibly painful thing to think about and write about – hence the reason this post did not get finished sooner.
Unfortunately, HB 2006 never made it out of committee. So I am not sure where this will go from here, if anywhere. I know that my legislators would be supportive if I were to try this again, at a time when I have a little more time and energy to devote. When I initiated this whole process a couple of years ago I was desperate for something “good” to come out of our tragedy. But the more time goes by, the more I am able to see that good doesn’t have to come in the form of legislation. And honestly (perhaps selfishly) I don't want to feel the way I feel when I think about this. At least not right now. I know that Seamus continues to give meaning and joy to my life and others’ lives. He also has 2 little siblings that are a daily reminder of all that is good in this world. For right now, that’s going to have to be good enough.