The Affordable Care Act's 'Black Mirror' moment

If you seek television to macerate your brain, I suggest streaming the British series "Black Mirror." It's a far darker "Twilight Zone" without the early 1960s prudery and production values. It zeroes in precisely on the discomforting trends in media and technology shaping our lives.

I bring this up because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has apparently entered into a "Black Mirror" phase of its own, where participants' poor decision-making requires them to self-flagellate before millions of self-satisfied people.

That was the case with North Carolina resident Luis Lang, a Republican who refused to obtain health insurance because the politicians he trusted had ceaselessly demonized the ACA. And when Lang's diabetes threatened to claim his eyesight, he was forced to crowdfund in order to pay for needed surgery. Mostly liberal supporters of the ACA chipped in $12,000 to pay for him to go under the knife (that sum is now more than $21,000), according to the Charlotte Observer.

This led an Observer reporter to grill Lang about his judgment. Did he hold himself responsible for his plight?

"I hold the whole government responsible for this, state and federal," he told the newspaper, adding after an uncomfortable pause that "I do hold myself partly responsible because of the view that I had. I should have taken better care of my sugar. Yeah, I should have had insurance."

One of "Black Mirror's" six episodes currently available in the United States touches on Lang's situation, which I am certain apply to many thousands more people.

In "National Anthem," the show's debut episode and perhaps the most disturbing 45 minutes of television ever broadcast, the British Prime Minister holds congress with a pig on nationwide television to secure the release of a kidnapped member of the royal family. He obviously doesn't want to perform this act, but that's what the polls tell him he should do. His aides even counsel him on how long it should take in order to avoid suggesting that he's enjoying it in any way.

Approximately half of the politicians in this country said the ACA was a monumental disaster and refused to expand Medicaid eligibility not because they really believe in it because that's what the polls tell them to do. It has escaped most people that their fellow Americans sometimes drop to the pavement because of such policymaking.

It escaped Lang, who as a result was made to squirm by the Charlotte Observer reporter and was then taken to task by media figures such as Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. and comedian Bill Maher (who suggested on his HBO show "Real Time" that Lang wear glasses with fake eyeballs). Lang also earned scads of scorn from commenters on his crowdfunding page. One person who gave Lang $5 called him a moron. Another noted that "I surely don't wish you blinder than you already were, but it would seem that you have been your own worst enemy, so let the retinas fall where they may." A third remarked "I want to donate enough to really help you out, but I can't figure out how to get GoFundMe to accept bootstraps."

Those are just three comments out of some 2,000.

"Whatever he thought of 'Obamacare' as a model for financing healthcare, surely Lang must concede that GoFundMe is even worse," Pitts observed.

And I am pretty certain now that the rationale for Lang's actions appears as twisted as a pretzel and thin as a tissue, he is going through a pretty serious "woulda, shoulda, coulda" period.

While Lang is indeed a victim of his own "it can't happen to me" hubris, it was amped up by poisonous disinformation secreted by politicians more concerned about winning the next election than providing honest leadership. And in this sour, "toldja so" culture, he must be humiliated as the price to receive the care he needs.

Ironically, none of this can happen in "Black Mirror's" country of origin because the United Kingdom guarantees universal access to healthcare. It makes me wonder who that show's target audience really is--and whether we will actually learn anything from it. -- Ron (@FierceHealth)

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