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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Zeba Khan
Toledo, Ohio

Zeba Khan

Voted out Nov. 23. I am a social media consultant for nonprofits. I have researched women and minority issues in the Muslim World, Islam in America and counterterrorism finance with the U.S. Treasury Department. ALL POSTS

Healthy teeth, empty bank account

Editor's note: For the final challenge of the contest, we asked Zeba Khan and Kevin Huffman to give us the best 700-word opinion column they each could write. Cast your vote for America's Next Great Pundit. Polls are open Monday, Nov. 23, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. ET.

Being a self-employed consultant has its perks and its drawbacks. On the upside, my work follows me wherever I go, provided I have Internet access. On the downside, there is no job security and currently I have not had any paid work in four months. I am a "live within my means" kind of woman, have never run up my credit cards and have always loved finding hidden treasures on the racks at Goodwill. Last month, I moved back to my parents' home. I would have walked away from my last consultancy with a modest cushion to hold me through this lull save one unanticipated cost: my teeth.

Because I am self-employed, I have to buy my health insurance out of pocket using after-tax dollars, compared with those who get health insurance at work and aren't taxed for the benefit. My situation reflects a rapidly increasing trend in our economy, in which companies use consultants more frequently, sparing them the obligation of providing benefits. This effectively shunts the burden of health care onto the individual. By some measures, 26 percent of the U.S. workforce is self-employed; this includes software developers, writers and consultants like myself.

So when I set out to purchase health insurance as an individual, I was severely disadvantaged because I didn't have the ability to negotiate with an insurance company in the way that Best Buy or other companies with lots of employees can. The limitations of my coverage didn't become clear until I stopped in for a checkup at my dentist. Thirty minutes later, I walked out with the horrifying news that I needed immediate and expensive work. Because my dental coverage wouldn't kick in for seven months, I had to either forgo the necessary procedures or pay out of pocket. Six thousand dollars later, I have healthy teeth and an empty bank account.

To my added chagrin, I only just learned about the Freelancers Union, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that works to help the self-employed obtain better coverage by pooling them together into a much larger negotiating bloc. This allows them to drive down premiums to buy health insurance and retirement funds. Importantly, the plans move with consultants from project to project. After crunching the numbers, I realized that its coverage would have saved me thousands of dollars, or 68 percent off my bill. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently described more bluntly the risks faced by a quarter of our workforce: "Freelancers lack any safety net to fall back on during hard times.... [I]f a company lays you off, you can collect unemployment. But if you're a freelancer and you lose all your clients, good luck."

In the last 18 months, Freelancers Union membership has grown by 86 percent, to roughly 130,000 members across the country. Its affordable coverage provides a critical safety net for freelancers, many of whom would otherwise be a medical emergency away from financial ruin.

President Obama has frequently said that "if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.... Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have."

So why, then, is Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz angry at the Obama administration and Congress over the health-care proposals meandering through Washington?

While Congress and the Obama administration have taken a play from Horowitz's book in aiming to make it easier to pool resources and purchase less expensive coverage, they have absurdly excluded groups such as the Freelancers Union from being able to participate in these exchanges. In real-world terms, this means that Horowitz's group will have to forgo helpful subsidies if it wants to keep its existing coverage.

Time magazine predicted earlier this year that by 2019, up to 40 percent of the workforce will be independent contractors. Congress needs to recognize this reality and avoid undermining successful models like the Freelancers Union as it stitches together legislative priorities for health-care reform. Until then, I pray that my teeth don't send me to the poorhouse.

Read more by Zeba Khan. See what the judges had to say about her contest work. And cast your vote for America's Next Great Pundit, Monday, Nov. 23, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. ET.

By Zeba Khan  |  November 22, 2009; 6:00 PM ET  | Category:  Final Challenge
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Comments

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Congratulations Zeba! I just read the final voting results and the numbers are impressive. You certainly gave your competition a run for his money.

And you have come a long way from never having written an op-ed before to competing on a national stage. Well done.

Here's an article in the EarthTimes http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/oped-project-alum-zeba-khan,1060223.shtml

Write on! Teach on!

Posted by: JennB1 | November 24, 2009 5:31 PM
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tO larry6215
While i was sorry to hear about your cancelled vacation, but very impressed by your loyalty to your grown-up son who should know better, I was deeply troubled by your comment.

What do you want?
That the public insures us all against the moral hazard of our respective stupid behaviors?
On the theory, I guess, that what's good for the banks is good for the rest of us!? (I suspect that the expectation preceeds the bank bailouts.)

The alternative - taking responsibility for the consequences of actions that we choose to do?
F U G E D A B O U D I T ! ! !

Might Health Insurance Reform actually be
the last of our entitlement ponzi schemes?
You suppose that Obama may have read this recently in a Chinese fortune cookie?

Posted by: abash40 | November 24, 2009 12:37 PM
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Dang, Girl! I got some friends over at CNN who would appreciate someone like you. You take your fine writing and your fine self over there. Ya hear!

Post, post da votes! Show us da votes!

Posted by: scscannen | November 24, 2009 12:41 AM
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Well, I think you should get the job BC you'll fit right in with the rest of the Posties who don't know what they are talking about. Take some of the money and hire an accountant. Health Insurance isn't bought with "after tax" dollars by the self employed, they get to deduct it right off the top of any income they earn - yep, right off the front page of the 1040. The rest of us don't.

And who has good dental insurance anyway? Most of us get a measly $1000 if that and nowadays that cover maybe one crown. So welcome to the Post - you can now spout off to your heart's content about things you know nothing about.

Posted by: doubled641 | November 23, 2009 11:32 PM
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Dental insurance insn't medical insurance. I've had company dental insurance consistently and have still layed out tens of thousands of dollars on my crummy teeth over the last ~30 years, because the dental insurance covers only a small percentage, and my mouthful of crowns, laminates and root cannals is still very vunerable, and I could easily spend $6K next year.

I appreciate my Dentist who is unusally good, _but I'm really not sure it's been worth it compared to resorting to dentures, early and keeping the cost down_.

Poor dental work often lasts only 5 years, you could easily spend this money again in 5 years and more as more teeth have troubles.

My take on Dentistry, if you have problem prone teeth, good dentistry is only an average quality deal, mainly about appearance not health, and poor dentistry is a very poor deal.

Posted by: Senavifan | November 23, 2009 10:18 PM
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Great article and an article i can really relate to.Whenever an unexpected money emergency happens in this shaky economy it can be scary.My husband is about to have alot of dental work done and even with dental insurance he has been told the insurance will still put us out several hundred dollars,Also my car needs work,our fridge is on the brink and i to have started shopping at our goodwill.Zeba is a real person with real problems like alot of Americans and i like that about her.

Posted by: smorrow | November 23, 2009 9:50 PM
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Ms. Khan, you make your hometown proud.

http://abclocal.go.com/wtvg/story?section=news/local&id=7134530

Posted by: JennB1 | November 23, 2009 9:07 PM
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I'll be looking for you in the op-ed pages. You're a strong writer.

Posted by: nandinip | November 23, 2009 8:57 PM
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Great article! Zeba, you are a wonderful writer and best of luck with whatever you decide to do in the future.

P.S. Nice topic...although I feel like a bit of a thief!

Posted by: orlabaker | November 23, 2009 7:33 PM
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Very topical. The best fish-eye view and also the view from the mountain top on health care that I have recently read in the cacophony of the idea. Well balanced and keeps you close to the detail and slowly drives up to the peak! At the end of it you are persuaded by data and the detail contextualized in human person!

Good luck, - soon to be new WaPo Pundit!

Posted by: wasim1 | November 23, 2009 7:16 PM
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Having been on here from the beginning of the contest, I've had the pleasure of enjoying Zeba's work and Kevin's work. I had fun reading the comments of the "regulars" martymar, msjs, chucky-el, mfkpadrefan, lizadoo2little and others. Now I have to choose between two good candidates.

While I've liked Kevin's humor in past pieces, this piece was hard for me to get through. Wanted to laugh, was ready to laugh, but it didn't happen for me this time. My head was spinning a little after I finished reading.

Zeba's piece read well. It didn't make all the points it could have, but I'm not sure it should have. She picked one major point and executed acceptably. She's a good writer and will get stronger over time. I also like that she roots for the underdog in her work, just like me. At the end of the day, I think Zeba will draw in new readers based on the novelty of her voice. I'm not sure Kevin can do that. If the Post has an eye to the future I think the choice is clear. Props to both!

Posted by: ralphie4 | November 23, 2009 7:04 PM
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PS. Important to take care of teeth. Teeth and Shoes will make or break a person, in society, you know.

Posted by: Lizadoo2little | November 23, 2009 6:36 PM
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Dear Zeba. I've ignored you, critiqued you, criticized you, encouraged you and voted for you. What you have going for you (aside from good grammar) is your wide-eyed innocent honesty. Don't get too hung up in the world of Islam. After all, YOU ARE AN AMERICAN and you are entitled to view the entire world through the eyes of the melting pot. Because we are exactly alike, Zeba. Different nationalities, preferences and backgrounds, yet the same collective past and future.
Please keep writing and keep the faith, dear friend. I have a strong feeling that you will go very far in this world. And, this (pundit thing), has merely been a stepping stone in the amazing world that is opening up to your ideas and the artistic way you choose to present yourself to others. Brightest Blessings, Dear Zeba. And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your dear family.

Posted by: Lizadoo2little | November 23, 2009 6:32 PM
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I've read better LSAT questions on the Reading Comprehension section. Why are we choosing between two weak writing liberals? Its like hiring Eugene Robinson again!

Posted by: Zingers | November 23, 2009 6:01 PM
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Robyn's no nonsense. She likes ya too. Says a whole lot in my book. http://speaketc.blogspot.com/2009/11/washington-post-ran-americas-next-great.html

Zeba, you keep on writing because you got somethin' to SAY!

Posted by: scscannen | November 23, 2009 5:41 PM
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I'm using this space to vote for none-of-the-above. He's the funny one. She's the insightful one. But, his humor is getting old and her insights are wrong even when she herself is the case in point.

NONE-OF-THE-ABOVE!

Scrap this contest and start all over.

Posted by: cybridge | November 23, 2009 5:28 PM
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MSJS: Here in the Show Me state, I'm not seeing any "No Electioneering" signs, but respect your decision to stay mum until the polls close...

As for me: I've never missed voting in a presidential election since I became eligible a few decades ago. At times, when the candidates seemed particularly lame, I've retained interest in the contest itself, yet have wished for the courage to sit out the voting. But presidential elections are too important! Unlike Pundit contest elections.....So I may fulfill a lifetime dream today, i.e., investing myself fully in a contest at every stage of the game....and then not voting. Have not decided, which one or whether....

PS: MSJS---by all rights shouldn't Washington be "The Windy City."?

Posted by: martymar123 | November 23, 2009 4:52 PM
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Like the way you write. Clear and to the point. Easy to follow. The personal story adds some warmth to a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about. Healthcare is MESSY and it affects EVERYONE. You have a fresher take on the same old stuff. I like that.

Posted by: scscannen | November 23, 2009 4:50 PM
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At least you don't need to drive to the poorhouse. GM lost a billion dollars and a couple hundred million more. That kind of money fixes lots of teeth. My dentist should average about a 15 per cent return on her practice. It's GM and GM thinking that leads toward the poorhouse, not your dentist. To get back on your feet miss a couple of car payments.

Posted by: Dermitt | November 23, 2009 4:23 PM
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Thank you for your writing. I have learned new something today. I did not know of the existence of the Freelancers Union. You have my vote and I hope you win.

Posted by: tarotxv | November 23, 2009 4:18 PM
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Yo vote! Buena suerte, Zeba! We're very proud of you. You write very well.

Posted by: RosaMar | November 23, 2009 3:44 PM
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Zeba,

Well done. You covered a new topic for most of us and extended its reach from the personal to the public quite nicely. Your writing is sincere.

Huffman over-reaches in his incessant attempts at humor and sarcasm and thus, risks boring us with his style over time. His thesis is often clouded by his own amusements.

I grew weary of it all.

In addition, one of your finest traits is your ability to take feedback and affect change in your style, methods and presentation. No ego problems there.

I see you ripening “on the vine.”

Huffman might possibly be the “Don Juan” every mother should warn their daughters about. You know those [handsome] characteristics of charm and wit, which often beguile naïve girls into love, but which after time are unveiled and reveal a certain vapidity in their possessor.

You are the diamond in the rough Zeba and that’s why I’m voting against Mr. Huffman and for you!

Besides, you have your priorities straight; you took care of your teeth. 

Posted by: kentwiles | November 23, 2009 3:44 PM
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Very good article covering lots of important health care information which can be dry and boring but her personal world view and experience made it interesting and real. She will get my vote.

Posted by: lydiasantiago | November 23, 2009 3:08 PM
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the number one requirement of comment is to know enough about the subject to educate a reader or add an interesting point of view to a debate on one. this article demonstrates that the author doesn't know the details of the subject at all, and couldn't pick a single issue within it to wrestle to the ground in a meaningful way.

Posted by: JoeT1 | November 23, 2009 2:46 PM
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The title is not only attention grabbing but in a few pithy words captures the dilemma most ordinary Americans face in current health care choices. I must say, this is the most interesting personal story I have read recently. And boy, there have been so many horror stories told lately. But this one is most likely occurring to so many more. It is very informative in that it highlights the topic of contractor health care which will be 40% of our work force in a few years, - something not to be brushed aside in the current debate. Zeba Khan has the gift of gab appropriate for a serious column writer. May be not too entertaining for some. But then you can go watch SNL for that. For somebody who has keenly followed all aspects of health care debate Zeba's piece was still an eye-opener for me. It made me vote for Zeba!

Posted by: wasim1 | November 23, 2009 2:23 PM
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Zeba, What I like about this piece and your other pieces in general is that you incorporate the judges' suggestions and advice into your subsequent work. The judges and readers asked you to include more of your personal voice in your writing. You did that with this entry. The personal narrative made me feel more this piece. You were also asked to lighten up your prose. You did that skillfully here - retaining respect for the important subject matter (healthcare coverage). Again, I learned something new from you regarding the Freelancers Union, and I appreciated the unusual take on this topic. Solid work.

Posted by: JennB1 | November 23, 2009 2:23 PM
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Better than the Huffman piece - but still TMI about the personal life of the writer. Good that she included interesting information (Freelancers union) like a journalist / reporter used to do in the "old pioneer days" of news and information.

Posted by: MIndfulPerson | November 23, 2009 2:02 PM
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Sorry, but this article was about as interesting as reading the small print on an application for health insurance. It is certainly a worthy subject but lacks the appeal to make it anything but informative. I think you might have been better served if you had returned to your first column and had had this discussion in the form of banter with an immigrant taxi driver. Perhaps we would have gotten some insight into the 'no public option' health insurance system in Afghanistan.

Posted by: TexReed | November 23, 2009 1:55 PM
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The number one job of a writer is to capture and retain a reader's interest. Reading this column feels labour intensive. Its just not interesting. Try literary device to make it more interesting. Try something, even arlarm or hype, to capture attention.

Posted by: felicerobinson1 | November 23, 2009 1:52 PM
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MartyMar123, how are things in the Show Me State?

You can probably infer my voting decision from the comments I posted on the judges' critiques. I'd prefer not to say anything more while the polls are still open.

Posted by: MsJS | November 23, 2009 1:41 PM
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Zeba

Your writing style is better than Hufmann"s. However, you column had two separate arguments, i.e. you personal experience with not having insurance coverage and with "Freelancers Union" not being able to be part of the insurance exchanges, I didn't feel you tied it together well.

I was intrigued when you said, " ..they have absurdly excluded groups such as the Freelancers Union from being able to participate in these exchanges."

However, the main focus of your column, at least to me, was the exclusion of groups which ostensibly could provide health care to many who don't have it at a reasonable price - you don't explain why the Congress excluded these groups - you should have researched it to explain why - either uncovering not-so-well known facts, or speculating based on your research as to why.

I don't feel either Zeba or Kevin would be a good choice as a pundit for WaPo.

Posted by: Gaithersburg1 | November 23, 2009 12:46 PM
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MSJS: Are you going to vote, and if so for whom?

Posted by: martymar123 | November 23, 2009 12:34 PM
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Sorry. That is to say that your competitor is a hotshot Washington lawyer with bigshot connections and a powerful and sizable organization behind him. You can't compete with that. No other woman, no person of color, no one other than the prototypical Washington Post columnist would have made it through this joke of a contest. You can still be heard. Go the untraditional route. They're open to you. It's the way of the future anyway. Old newspapers are dying.

Posted by: missmolly05 | November 23, 2009 12:27 PM
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Great topic, but subpar delivery. Something is missing from your writing. You choose interesting topics, but don't write in an engaging way. I wish you could get that extra something that would make you stand out from the crowd. Can a good editor help? Yes. Do we need more female voices? Yes. Would it be great to add a Muslim voice considering what's happening in our country? Yes. For that reason, I'm voting for you. I don't t think you are America's Next Great Oundit, but I want you to have the chance to prove me wrong.

Posted by: Jared29 | November 23, 2009 12:12 PM
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My preference is to avoid columnists who write a lot about themselves as a springboard for introducing us to a problem.

For me the column "started" around para #4, meaning a lot of words were wasted.

I'm also considering boycotting pundits who end their columns with "Congress should..." or "Congress needs to..." Yes, I realize health care is big on Capitol Hill right now, but it's soooo easy to cop out and proclaim only Congress can solve our dilemmas. If Sara Horowitz felt that way, the Freelancers Union wouldn't exist.

Posted by: MsJS | November 23, 2009 12:11 PM
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Good luck Zeba. You can't win this.

Posted by: missmolly05 | November 23, 2009 12:04 PM
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We are all finding something different in Zeba's column. I found her writing smooth and easy to read. I found her content informative, interesting and easy to follow. I would read her for stimulation to think about something I hadn't thought about.

I like the personal story. We all have our personal stories and I like to know that circumstances stimulate a quest for answers. Pundits are supposed to have answers, after asking themselves the right questions.

Thank you, Zeba, for writing seriously. I read the comics page for my laughs.

You have my vote.

Posted by: goodgovernment | November 23, 2009 12:04 PM
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Dear Zeba,

I have been in your shoes precisely and know exactly what you're talking about. It made me livid to think that my dentist could charge me full price because I didn't have the benefit of a large organization negotiating prices through a dental insurer.

My bank also charged me $10 a month for the privilege of keeping my account in their bank, because I didn't have direct deposit.

Our health care system works just fine provided you're independently wealthy or very well represented.

Posted by: corbinb | November 23, 2009 11:55 AM
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I preferred this piece to Kevin Huffman's, but both seemed weak considering the assignment was to write the BEST opinion column they could write. At least Ms. Khan's piece stated an opinion, where Mr. Huffman's did not. His only said he was confused.

BTW, anybody who has lost a job suddenly discovers that he is a "freelancer." Especially since we cannot carry our employer-provided health care with us to our next job. So, if you want to know how many people are freelancers in America, the number is pretty close to 100%.

Posted by: egc52556 | November 23, 2009 11:49 AM
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I'm sorry, this column makes no sense whatsover. It's key claim that the self employed must by insurance with after tax dollars is inaccurate (costs are generally deductible on line 29 of the 1040 or as an expense of an S corporation.) It mixes up the issues of the lack of negotiating power of a single purchaser with her real problem, which was that her policy coverage was not in effect at the time she discovered here problems. Most importantly, she alleges that the Freelancers Union, which is held up as a solution to problems like hers, is opposed to the current health care reform proposals, but does not say a word about WHY, which is the key element which would link her personal experience to the public policy issue she is purporting to discuss.

Posted by: exgovgirl | November 23, 2009 11:49 AM
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Generally, I like that you included a narrative. So often, major policy issues like health care are discussed without a narrative. We don't hear from uninsured entrepreneurs who experience a loss of financial independence because of poor health.

The trouble with your narrative, of course, is that you are its star. The narrative should have included someone else, if only because it looks like you're using your column to lobby the government for change from which you'll directly benefit. It's like someone saying, "I pay too much in taxes, Government, please lower them." Instead, I would have interviewed someone from the Freelancers Union and figured out what they're struggling with.

As for the topic itself, I think most people don't feel the same about dental work as they do about primary care services. That is, if your teeth are in tough shape that is one thing; if you're uninsured and you have cancer, that is something quite different. Moreover, if your teeth are in tough shape and you're insured, chances are that you're going to pay for the teeth repair out of pocket. Most plans cover teeth cleaning and the like, but not major oral surgery.

And, finally, I wished you had focused on the moral aspect of health care. I mentioned this to Kevin, too. Health care isn't a privilege. We treat it that way in this country, but no one really believes that health care is something that only the succesful or the wealthy should have. That angle, it seems to me, should have been explored.

Good luck.

Posted by: teoandchive | November 23, 2009 11:06 AM
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I liked the personal approach. Zeba used a real example (herself) of the problems inherent in the present health care systems, the most pressing of which will not be addressed, that being employer based insurance. As the cost of the health care industry has risen, according to the rhetoric, from 1/7 of GDP in '93 to 1/6 in '09 (anybody else notice that?) there are, indeed, more folks in Zeba's position. Businesses are farming out more work to avoid paying benefits. Once out of the employer umbrella the worker has to deal with paying for a myriad of things and gets raped in the process. The result is that they don't pay and when disaster strikes they are in the emergency rooms (which are not that anymore, they are admitting rooms for 1st time users) and their unpaid bulls...in most cases they can't...are added to the costs of the insured.
One thing I didn't understand...the freelancers' pool sounded good...why isn't it included in the Obama plan? The idea of having self-employed pools has been around for years. You should have explained where that is going. The question about the freelancers was left hanging.
The answer to all of this, of course, is single payer...make health care tax based...yes I said it! A definition of "socialized medicine"...the 30 or so national systems that perform better than the good ol' USA in terms of both costs and outcomes.
Finally, I said in a previous critique that America needs a good Muslim American columnist in these times...my apologies to Fareed, I forgot about him. Zeba has a chance to be that person. And I've learned from her column that she could use the piddly paychecks offered by WaPo for the chosen one. Zeba has my vote.

Posted by: mfkpadrefan | November 23, 2009 10:18 AM
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Zeba, I liked that you raised two issues that are seldom addressed: The exclusion of the self-employed and why our teeth and eyes, critical to basic existence, are less important than other body parts in medical insurance circles? I'd have liked more information about the co-0p type of self-employed insurance, but in general,
Well done! You get my vote.

Posted by: Spindreams | November 23, 2009 10:16 AM
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A good point, overlooked.

Too much exposition about the travails of a "freelancer," which BTW apply to ANYONE self-employed, and not enough about the BIG point of how the "reform" bill will leave these small groups trying to help the self-employed with coverage out in the cold.

Misses the forest for the trees.

Posted by: theRealCalGal | November 23, 2009 10:04 AM
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Who ever heard of dental insurance paying most of your bill? Maybe 50% in some cases but usually not that much. The money I have payed out of pocket for dental care sometimes exceeds our family's medicare Part B premiums for an entire year which I should give up for the little they are worth.

Posted by: linus12 | November 23, 2009 9:37 AM
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Another rich kid liberal who strives to do good for no reward - income! Get a career and experience the great American dream - hard work and success!

Posted by: jjcrocket2 | November 23, 2009 9:32 AM
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..ergo no need for public option.

Posted by: crumppie | November 23, 2009 9:27 AM
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As parents of a son in your age bracket and similar employment status, we had to put our dream trip on hold last year (we recently retired) to susidize an $11,000 dental bill for his three broken teeth suffered while texting, tripping, and meeting a concrete curb face down. There are millions of twenty somethings that do not have adequate health care, much less dental care. Thanks for bringing your story to the attention of Post readers. Hopefully meaningful health reform will become a reality and our younger citizens won't have to "empty their bank accounts" or their parents' vacation account.

Good luck, Zeba, we're voting for you.

Posted by: larry6215 | November 23, 2009 9:25 AM
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Good insights into an important issue. In depth discussion of the complexities of the issue. A clear narrative that flowed, once more showing Zeba has a good mind and can write.

New twist using personal experience to point out the inherent unfairness of the current system of insurance and healthcare in America. Those without get burned a second time, they pay more for the same service.

Zeba also recommended solutions - and took a shot at the big guys in Congress with the power to fix it now. Well done all around!

Posted by: chucky-el | November 23, 2009 9:21 AM
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I feel the pain Zeba. Good luck in the final round

Posted by: RandomGuy | November 23, 2009 9:20 AM
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You win this round, and I am hoping you advance.

The only quibble I have is your impression of dental care under big employers is a bit off. Even if you work for the government and have a big plan like Kaiser, you get some crappy dental plan which hardly covers anything. At best these plans are like a discount coupon you could get from your ad section of the weekend Post.

You did surprise me with your hard look at cooperatives, and how they can lose out under the present universal health care package. Had Kevin written this piece he would have stopped short, quoted a Palin facebook page, and insulted anyone who obstructed the passage of the universal health care bill.

Good luck in the vote. You deserve to win.

Posted by: Wiggan | November 23, 2009 9:03 AM
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Try an expensive dental procedure with medicare and a 'supplimental' from your pension fund that provides NO dental coverage.

Kahn is avoiding the "cute prose" approach to her writing and gets my vote.

Posted by: Fiftyeight | November 23, 2009 8:52 AM
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Once again, Ms. Khan's finest attribute is clarity. But this clarity subsists on a restrictive menu of ideas and justifications.

Frankly my Dear, you're too elementary. You need to develop more graduate academic references for your viewpoint. Offer more cognitive pro's and con's on the contrasting political schools of thought.

This editorial effort was too biographical and possessed one major flaw: she didn't seek out the Freelancers Union's insurance before getting the dental treatment . . . not much forethought.

Adam of CA.

Posted by: AdamYoung2 | November 23, 2009 8:49 AM
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Pretty good, and definitely addressing an important element of the "new economy." I am a government contractor through a very tiny non-profit. We see some of this problem, too: our health insurance premiums were slated to increase by 27% this year, so instead they negotiated a mere 14% increase -- at the cost of getting lesser coverage. At this rate of increase, my health insurance bill will double in a little over 5 years, while my actual coverage will become less effective each year.

The writing needs to be tightened up a bit (sorry about the passive voice, I am trying to avoid the impression of personal abuse). Here is a good example: "After crunching the numbers, I realized that its coverage would..." That could easily be shortened to the more concise and less dithery "Its coverage would..." OF COURSE you have this conclusion after crunching the numbers, so the crunching of numbers can be assumed unless the action of number-crunching becomes, in itself, crucial to your point -- for example, if you wish to address how long it takes, or how needlessly complex it is, or your discovery of a hidden problem. Otherwise, it's just taking up space on the page.

And please, please, please: don't use the pronoun "myself" when the perfectly respectable and more-correct pronoun "me" is available.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 23, 2009 8:47 AM
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"Why has the topic of exhorbitant dental fees and inadequate insurance coverage for them ever entered the debate?"

Why hasn't the topic of the exhorbitant cost of a dental education and starting up a dental practice not entered the debate?

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | November 23, 2009 8:29 AM
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Yawn.
Go back to Square One, WaPo.

Posted by: fishguts | November 23, 2009 8:15 AM
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Good writer, but her article comes off as whining, not commentary. I'm self-employed myself and have been in her situation for 25 years. Life can be a challenge for the self-employed, but you don't have to choose that path. There are trade-offs, but worth it in the long run.

Posted by: bryan37 | November 23, 2009 8:03 AM
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This is an excellent article. Most newspaper content is addressed to those holding traditional jobs; as an independent contractor, I sometimes feel our segment of the work force is invisible
to the working world at large. Yet, as Zeba says, our numbers are growing. Time for an occasional piece to be directed our way.

There are so many other issues you could address in 13 articles, if you chose this as your theme.....quarterly estimated tax payments reflecting past success rather than present penury, the "feast or famine" syndrome.....also, more personal aspects. e.g., you would have the basis for an entirely different article if you had said it this way: "On the upside, my work follows me wherever I go, provided I have Internet access. On the downside, my work follows me wherever I go, provided I have Internet access."

I don't like the first paragraph of this column. The topic itself is stronger than the anecdotal introduction would suggest, thus the opening weakens the piece. Dental health issues can be serious, and on occasion even life-threatening---but most readers won't see it that way. And you open the door for silly questions that you don't answer---why didn't she wait to have the work done, hasn't she had regular check ups?(as an independent contractor, I can guess why, but you don't say). Had you required a kidney transplant or heart bypass surgery, on the other hand, that might have worked as an intro.

Zeba, I frankly found Kevin's counterpoint piece today hilarious---but this is information I would use. IF you wrote on independent contractor/self-employed issues---I would be a regular reader.
The other topics you have chosen have not always interested me as much. I wish I knew what you would choose to do.


Posted by: martymar123 | November 23, 2009 7:38 AM
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I am going to plea for a little sympathy for both these finalists. As one of the 4800 initial contestants I struggled to say something timely yet fresh ONCE. Zeba and Kevin are being asked to do it REPEATEDLY, but without the support and connections that professional pundits enjoy. I am going to review their bodies of work, rather than just this final entry, and then cast my vote accordingly. Thank goodness this journalistic Bataan Death March is coming to an end.

Posted by: reggerman1 | November 23, 2009 7:05 AM
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Young Ms. Khan has just begun to be jolted in the School of Hard Knocks. She whines about her own problems (bad teeth and unstable employment) but doesn't offer any illuminating comment about the health care debate overall.

Posted by: elgropo1 | November 23, 2009 6:27 AM
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I enjoyed this column and can relate to it: I have a neighbor who is a pilot who was laid off and now works under contract with his former employer, a neighbor who was a full-time professor but now teaches under contract with his former employer, and neighbors who had been camera men with a news station but now work under contract with their former employer. No one gets bennies and they all pay a fortune (1200 - 1700 a month) for health insurance.

That said, I would have liked a quicker presentation of her personal story and more about her new insurer and why they are being left-out of the health care reform bill.

When I take my 2 kids to the dentist for a well visit -- just cleaning, exam, x-rays -- there's not much left of $500. I don't know how families with $40 to $60K a year come up with that twice year considering all other expenses.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | November 23, 2009 6:20 AM
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Miss Khan had several paths to follow. One was to question, if she had regular checkups, why major reconstructive work was necessary? Why was there no forwarning of this on previous exams? Who slipped up? Then, there is the second and even a third opinion option. As a free consumer of dental services, why was this not used? It might have found that these services could have been modified as well as obtainable at reduced cost from the first estimate from other practitioners.

As a recently retired dentist, I find Ms. Khan's interfacing action with dentists to have been unused. This might be understandable in people whose policies pay a large percentage of the bill, but in patients who are responsible for the entire bill, it is mind boggling. Patients holding dentists feet to the fire to justify services and cost are necessary, not something that is neglected.

Certainly, insurance needs fixing, but all consumer agreements need thought and responsible action on the part of consumers (patients).

Posted by: skatsivelos | November 23, 2009 6:15 AM
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Good article!

Posted by: bdunning4 | November 23, 2009 5:59 AM
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Good article. Brings out interesting facts I nor apparently anyone else, had thought about.

Posted by: bdunning4 | November 23, 2009 5:56 AM
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There's a nice flow to this piece, Zeba. The personal narrative draws me in. It's a good read.

Posted by: citizenme | November 23, 2009 3:13 AM
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I'm not particularly impressed with this article. She never fleshed out her point to give us a clue why the various health care reform proposals were inadequate for freelancers. Is it because they will be provided affordable care individually under the new plan if they are below a certain income? Or will they be completely left out? I don't think it's the latter. But we don't find out from her article. Additionally, I don't find the simplistic writing style of this article particularly appealing or professional.

Posted by: wiseonesun | November 23, 2009 2:27 AM
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Ms. Khan should be your pick. She writes lucidly and cogently. Using her personal narrative, she was able to argue for healthcare reform while simultaneously pointing to a gap in the proposed legislation which needs rectifying. Less relevantly, she is also quite easy on the eye - a desperately needed counterbalance to Charles Krauthammer! She gets my vote.

Posted by: samiadodin | November 23, 2009 2:04 AM
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That's more like it!!! Writes like a real champion and you have MY VOTE!!!

Posted by: huntyrella | November 23, 2009 12:59 AM
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Good start, poor finish.

Zeba Khan picks up on an important and arguably undercovered aspect of the health reform debate, and introduces us to the Freelancers Union. Then, right at the end, she tells us that health care reform proposals in Congress don't let groups like Freelancers Union participate in health insurance exchanges.

Really? Both the House bill and the one the Senate is soon to take up? Why? Did Congress have a reason for doing this, or did members and Senators just forget about contractors? Khan just leaves us hanging, wondering whether she has put her finger on a really important point or just reported what one interest group representative (this Horowitz person, who is not identified except as the founder of the Freelancers Union) has told her.

Khan could have told her personal story or delivered a useful explanation of how contractors relate to health insurance exchanges proposed in legislation. She tried to do both, and gave the second short shrift.

Posted by: jbritt3 | November 23, 2009 12:31 AM
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Very good article. Well written and you covered a piece of the health reform story that, as far as I know, no one else had.

Posted by: rahrahrah | November 23, 2009 12:06 AM
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We have a winner.

Posted by: SkyBeaver | November 23, 2009 12:06 AM
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Just missed. Why has the topic of exhorbitant dental fees and inadequate insurance coverage for them ever entered the debate?

Posted by: red4ever2 | November 22, 2009 11:48 PM
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Please hire this young woman immediately. She is fluent, logical, funny, and Krauthammer, Gerson, and Kristol will all have terminal heartburn.

Posted by: BBear1 | November 22, 2009 11:47 PM
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