Health Care, Who Cares?
Yesterday, I met a friend (we’ll call him “Red”) who used to be my neighbor until he moved away. He is a staunch Republican and I cannot recall an issue that we agreed on…our political “discussions” used to occur in our driveways and we would be screaming at each other, but we never held grudges against one another. I remember the first time we “disagreed” and were shouting at each other; when I came back into the house, my wife and kids were sitting scared out of their wits, thinking we will definitely kill each other off. We did not agree on politics (he did not care for references like ‘King George the Worst’), or on taxes, or on just about any social issue…except civil rights.
Actually, we liked each other and still do; he was never bigoted against Muslims or Islam and he believed strongly in protecting everyone’s civil rights (although he got a bit fuzzy about Ashcroft’s “detentions” of Muslims). I will never forget that within a couple of days after 9-11, his wife walked over to me and said that both of them wanted us to know that if things ever got bad and we had to get out, we would be welcome at their home; only one other friend ever thought to tell me this (but this is not a judgment on my friendship with others).
Red is a Vietnam Vet and has been diagnosed with diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (or is it Non-Hodgkin’s?), he has been through a lot of chemo-therapy but the VA is taking its sweet time in allowing that he would be eligible for VA health benefits because of Agent Orange; in the meantime, Red’s personal catastrophic insurance (with very high annual deductible) is filling in for him. His wife has Rheumatoid Arthritis and is disabled, she recently had to resign her job and is currently on COBRA health care (which is a temporary care…about 18 months…to cover people between jobs). Clearly, their financial situation is not stable because neither of them has any income and neither looks like they are going back to work in the foreseeable future. When a generic medicine would not work, Red’s insurance disallowed the brand-name drug for him even though Red’s doctor wrote saying this was the only medicine that would work; Red is now having to pay for the very expensive brand-name medicine himself.
Being a staunch Republican, Red is dead-set against any healthcare reform. When I ask him why, he tells me he does not want to lose his choice for healthcare and he does not want to have a system like Britain…PLUS, he tells me, “The last thing I want is to have the government take over and screw things up totally!”
How much worse does it have to get before Red starts thinking for himself instead of allowing the pharmaceutical companies and people like Rush Limbaugh, do his thinking for him?
I lived in Britain for three years working as an industrial engineer for the Coca-Cola Company. I was covered by the National Health system and I had an extra insurance from Coke through which I could get private medical care (supposedly better and faster) if I wanted. One day, when I broke my foot at home, I called the local clinic (there is one for every neighborhood) and told the doctor that something was wrong with my foot and I could not get myself to the clinic (less than two miles away); the doctor was at my door in less than 30 minutes. He confirmed that I had broken my foot, stabilized it and then told me to get to the hospital where I could have it set in plaster (I did).
Before I returned to the US, I thought I should get my two impacted (under the gum) wisdom teeth seen so I would not have to spend a lot of money in the US. The local dentist removed both my wisdom teeth and all I paid for my share, was about $16.
My sister lives in the Netherlands and suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis. The national healthcare system there takes care of her, she gets personal calls from her specialist who asks how she is doing and suggests new things for her, she is on a very expensive drug program and if she or anyone in her family need any medical attention, they are seen within a very short time.
Today, my wife and I are self-employed…well, as a real estate agent these days, I am stretching when I call myself “self-employed” and we still have a health insurance program from Group Health, back from the days when she worked there. It is a superb plan but it is closed now so, if we get out of it for any reason, we cannot get back on it. Last year, we were paying $1000 per month for it and this year, it went up by 30% to $1300 a month; I am sure next year it will go up again although I am hoping the rise will be in the single digits.
It is awfully hard to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of healthcare.
I am sure there are many horror stories about healthcare in Britain (and in other countries) and I am also sure I can find an endless stream of horror stories about healthcare in the US…like a recent case of the Seattle woman who was given an intravenous injection full of bleach by accident…at one of the best hospitals in the state. We can all feel good, casting aspersions at the “other” healthcare. But the bottom-line in this bottom-line obsessed nation, is that we are spending way too much money paying way too many middlemen their commissions and way too many pharmacies their obscene profits, in order that we get the worst healthcare of any developed nation.
Before the naysayers jump in, I will acknowledge that for the tiny minority with tremendous amounts of money, the US can still provide the best in healthcare. But the point is, that with a national healthcare system, people would still have the option to obtain private care over and above what they would get from the government and yet, EVERYBODY would get good medical care without rendering them destitute in their last years…or even in their young years.
The drug companies, the insurance companies and other special interests in this country are so powerful and rich that our Senate has ruled out the national healthcare option before even beginning the discussion on what the “reform” should be like, “It is off the table” they said. The public is so influenced by the right-wing rhetoric via Radio, TV and other media, that they too, are against a national health plan, “Keep it off the table!” they growl at the politicians. Our self-serving and opportunist politicians keep one eye on the money stream and one eye on the loud public that condemns anything that has ”single-payer” or “national” before “healthcare”…and the fix is in for the reform-less Reform.
Many of us do not even understand what the discussion is about, probably because, since the discussion has not quite begun, it is hard to know what to think. Many of the young and healthy people, do not see why they should be so interested in healthcare (that promises to raise taxes) when they really don’t need it (we all used to think we were invulnerable). Those who have jobs and are covered by company plans barely notice the inexorable increase in deductibles and co-pays in the health plans their companies offer as the companies themselves experience greater and greater costs to maintain health coverage for their employees…as prices keep going up, benefits (i.e., coverage) keep going down.
What most of us don’t realize is that if WE the people, do not drive the discussion with the politicians, the special interest will and by the time some of us figure out how we have been screwed by the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and all the other interested parties, it will be too late and legislation will be IN.
Finally, what all of us should realize is that if there is no national healthcare component THIS time, it may be generations before the discussion to discuss healthcare is even brought up…the special interests certainly understand it.
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