Editorial: Make sure you’re covered

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1993:

On August 18, U.S. president Bill Clinton announced his design for an employer-
financed national health plan, intended to extend coverage to all Americans––not just those
who can afford it. To avoid increasing the cost of hiring so much that struggling firms
might cut jobs rather than pay the mandatory premiums, the Clinton plan would collect pre-
miums on a sliding scale. Small businesses, including charities, might be able to cover
their workers for as little as 3.5% of payroll expenditure.

The Clinton plan is far from being as comprehensive as we might hope. People
who can pay more, or whose employers can pay more, will still get better coverage. But
any coverage is better than none, and none remains the norm at numerous animal protection
groups. While a handful of executives with the biggest groups pull down six-figure salaries
with generous fringe benefits, most animal protection workers receive low wages, on an
erratic schedule. Health plans are often considered a frill, something small humane societies
and advocacy groups can do without.
But no one needs health coverage more than people who work long hours at short
pay. Part-timers with other jobs to make ends meet may be otherwise covered, along with
people whose spouse has a health plan––but not necessarily. Nonprofit workers typically
have minimal savings and limited credit. Most Americans could be bankrupted by medical
catastrophe, but uninsured nonprofit workers can be bankrupted so fast as to jeopardize their
chances of getting adequate treatment for curable conditions.
The quest for health coverage has a positive side in animal protection, in that it
leads many capable people from posts with struggling private humane societies to compara-
ble jobs in municipal animal control. Over the past decade, this largely unremarked drift
may be one of the leading reasons for the redefinition of animal control from “dogcatching,”
to “animal care and control.”
But the continual loss of experienced personnel hurts private humane societies, as
well, along with the smaller advocacy groups. And the high price paid by some people who
work deep into middle age at low salaries without health coverage is a significant disincen-
tive to colleagues. The leader of one small but effective national group may soon lose an
eye, having postponed seeking help for severe headaches until a tumor on the optical nerve
had done perhaps permanent damage. A state representative of another group was recently
financially devastated by breast cancer. She made an impressive recovery from a masecto-
my, but now has nothing to fall back upon in case of further problems, will have only
Social Security to live on at retirement, and is reluctantly considering a career change to
escape the risk of ending up homeless.
At ANIMAL PEOPLE, we’ve paid into a basic health plan even when we
couldn’t pay ourselves. The importance of having coverage was forcibly driven home to us
last year when our apparently perfectly healthy 18-month-old son was abruptly discovered to
have a life-threatening brain tumor. If we hadn’t had coverage, our pediatrician, who had
merely noted a slight jump in skull measurement, probably wouldn’t have prescribed the
expensive just-in-case neurologic testing and CAT scan that produced the nick-of-time diag-
nosis. Then, when disaster struck, we’d have had little chance of getting our son the high
quality of care he received––and we’d have run through our credit trying to save him. We
wouldn’t have been able to found this newspaper.
Our son Wolf, now fully recovered and as active at age three as any child, and
ANIMAL PEOPLE, a healthy one-year old, both testify that medical coverage is the most
valuable benefit an employer can provide. Don’t wait for the Clinton plan to clear Congress.
Cover yourself and your staff, even if you have to skip attending conferences, forgo a pay
raise, and use office furniture from a second-hand store. In the long run you’re not just
insuring people; you’re insuring that people with knowhow can continue making their con-
tribution to the humane cause.
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