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Posted by on Oct 4, 2013 in Blog, Politics, What's Left | 4 comments

What’s at Stake in the National Health Care Debate? Try This — The Lives of Poker Players


Emergency Room


Among the constituencies with the most at stake in this nation’s ongoing health care debate are professional poker players.

Got your attention?


I suspect that few poker pros are following the current budget impasse that’s laced the federal government into a straightjacket.  Fewer still likely have much of an opinion on what’s called “ObamaCare,” known officially as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  They’re far too busy conducting surgery on their opponents’ bankrolls.

But if anyone should care about this issue, it’s (American) professional poker players — the vast majority of whom are self-employed and therefore subject to many of the provisions of the ACA.  Moreover, if the United States were to do what’s become plainly necessary — which is the implementation of universal health care coverage — most poker players, especially those who are older and more prone to health problems, would be among those who benefit the most.

Consider the outrageous, some insist prohibitive costs right now of purchasing private health insurance in America, especially if you’re self-employed.  Talk about a disadvantaged class.  Over the past decade, annual percentages of increase have far outpaced the standard inflation rate making the current system and trends unsustainable.  Because health insurance has become so ridiculously expensive so quickly, many simply can no longer afford it.  Predictably, millions of Americans have fallen through the cracks.  The evidence on this is overwhelming — 48 million uninsured according to the latest figures.  I’ll bet the percentages of uninsured poker pros far outdistance the general population, which then makes us even more of a burden on the system.  These health care statistics might be a bore, that is until the numbers begin to hit closer to home.

Speaking of closer to home, the crisis point has now reached our collective doorstep.

Over the years, I’ve come to know and care about a great many poker players, including several past legends of the game.  Their names need not be mentioned.  As health care costs in America have skyrocketed, we’ve seen what happens to these people when they stopping winning at the poker tables.  Inevitably, all people age, and with advancing years comes increasing medical problems and higher individual health care costs.  Call this what it is — a fact of life.  Sadly, when some people can least afford to get sick, they do.  And so, their health gets neglected because they can’t afford treatment.  Worse, some suffer humiliating pain and misery during their later years because they drew a low card out of life’s deck of good health.  For everyone blessed with a face card, plenty more get dealt deuces and treys.

We know these names who ended up holding lousy hands.  We loved these people.  They were some of our closest friends and colleagues, some of whom died recently.  They deserved better.  In their final stages, they were forced to plead and beg for money in order to receive proper medical treatment and pay their bills.  Try to imagine what that’s like.  Seriously.  Take a moment and try to justify a system that requires a fundraising effort in order to get health care.

But the shame shouldn’t be with our dearest friends who ended up doing the suffering.  The real shame lies with a broken down (some would say morally corrupt) system that has reduced everyone in America to play the health care lottery.  Draw the short stack, and you too may be completely wiped out financially.  You too may be reduced in the final moments of your life — not to trying to get well or make peace with inevitable mortality — but rather begging and borrowing in order to survive and not leave a pile of medical bills for your survivors.

As I said, one word best describes such an unbelievably cruel system — shame.

The great irony is that privatized health care turns us all into gamblers.  Life’s winners are those fortunate enough not to get sick, or suffer accidents, or endure crippling ailments.  Life’s losers are those who get stricken down with serious health problems, or worse die, often by no fault of their own.  I’ve been known to make a bet or two and certainly have no moral objection to gambling.  But I’d prefer not to gamble my life and that of my family on the prospect of hoping to stay lucky and not get sick.  That’s why we collectively agree to share the risks on most of the basics of personal security.  Risk is distributed throughout society.  Accordingly, we all pay a little so that none of us gets hammered with paying a lot.  Yes, everyone’s taxes go up with universal coverage.  But cut out the profit margins from insurance companies, big pharma, and the health care industry, and most people’s long-term medical costs will be lower.

No one likes the government, at least until they need the government’s help.  Then, the government becomes the savior.  For instance, we wouldn’t dare ration police and fire protection only to those who can afford to pay for it.  We wouldn’t dare deny a child access to a good education based on the income of his or her parents.  We wouldn’t limit food inspection only to the wealthy and leave the rest of society to fend for themselves and take health risks.  But we do all of these things and somehow the system works.  Not so, however, with a privatized health care system that prioritizes profits over people and reduces some of our friends to holding a tin cup in their final hours.

The time is now to dispel the lies and fight for ObamaCare.  And tomorrow, the time will come to make the current law into what it really should be — universal health care coverage for all.  Including all poker players.

Note:  See Dr. Arthur Reber’s comments on this subject.  He wrote one of the best overviews on the federal government shutdown that I’ve read.  It can be found here:  POLITICAL RANT:  CRACKPOTS IN CONGRESS


  1. You wrote above this; “As I said, one word best describes such an unbelievably cruel system — shame” I would like to change the word “shame” to “devastating”. I watched mom trying to get pain meds for her condition. The hospital saw nodules in her liver but did not tell us she had cancer 3 months earlier. Her primary care physician said she had to come see him to get meds for her pain, which was mis-diagnosed as chronic constipation on an earlier visit to the hospital which saw the cancer nodules in her liver. 2 days before mom passed away we were told it was cancer. My brother is procuring a lawyer. Myself, I just want to go back in time and give mom pain pills 🙁

  2. I’m a professional gambler. I also have a strong knowledge of responsible bankroll management. I don’t carry comprehensive insurance on my car – it’s a -EV bet, and while paying to replace a stolen car would suck, downswings of that size are routine for me. But health insurance? A lengthy and expensive illness can easily cost millions, at a time when my earning power is being destroyed. I can’t fade that shit.

    Incidentally, you give the current system – soon to be former system, thank God! – too much credit. It’s not just prohibitively expensive to get private insurance, it’s often impossible at any price. It’s not a rare problem limited to a few people in their last days. It’s routine.

  3. The ACA doesn’t deliver healthcare, it makes private health insurance mandatory.

    Never had health insurance in America and I won’t under ACA. Read about bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans – sounds like a casino.

    The bronze plan is affordable – $4375 deductible and you’re 60% covered. Silver – not much better – over $2000 deductible and 70% covered.

    Sorry, but how does this help anyone? If you’re not 100% covered, you’re not covered at all.


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