Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Personal Case for Public Health Insurance

I understand that a lot of people consider the debate over health care in this country over now that reform passed earlier this year and many of the provisions took effect last week. But those who are truly progressive and devote much of their time and energy to activism understand that the fight for progress and fairness is never-ending -- particularly in the face of conservative opposition as hell-bent as today's Republican/Tea Party.

Because of that, I felt it was important to share a few personal stories to accentuate why I'm so strongly in favor of America adopting a public health care system that covers everyone. There are already public coverage systems for the elderly (Medicare), the poor (Medicaid), veterans (the VA) and in some circles, children (S-CHIP) -- but I'm talking for everyone.

Why should the rest of us have to fight the greedy insurance companies who answer to Wall Street before the patients?

That's right, I want Medicare for All. Go on, call me a socialist. You wouldn't be the first.

My grandmother is 76 years old and is on Medicare. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A lengthy bout of chemotherapy and radiation got rid of the cancer, but the treatment indirectly led to congestive heart failure. Cue all the medication.

Last month, a colonoscopy revealed a mass in her colon, one that was later found to be cancerous. So she had surgery and spent a week in the hospital, going from intensive care to high-level care to a regular room before she was discharged, cancer-free and possibly avoiding chemo.

During all these ordeals, throughout the past two years of doctor visits and bad diagnoses and good outcomes, how many bills do you think she was sent? None. Not a single one. Two years of cancer and heart problems, and my grandmother hasn't paid a dime.

How many times do you think the doctors have come to her, saying they can't perform a test or give a certain treatment because of the cost and insurance's unwillingness to cover it? Not once. My grandmother has received the best treatment possible in a timely manner, and not once have the doctors or she worried about how much it would cost.

For my grandmother, there's been no cost.

My grandfather, all 77 years of him, served in the Army and fought in Korea -- which means he has access to VA health care. He's been diabetic for the past 16 years, on top of a heart attack and a stroke. My grandfather had triple-bypass surgery several years back. He's been treated at some of the finest hospitals on the East Coast, going to both Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
How many bills do you think he's seen? None.

How many times does he go without a treatment or checkup because insurance won't pay? Never.

And let's not forget: for the first 23 years of my life, I was covered under TRICARE because my father served in the Air Force. Open-heart surgery when I was 4? Covered. Every subsequent check-up? Covered. Shots for school? Glasses so I could see the chalkboard? Physical so I could try out for the high school baseball team? Covered, covered, covered.

But once I turned 23, I was on my own, thrown to the wolves of private health insurance.

Imagine the peace of mind that comes from knowing you don't have to worry about the cost of treatment. My grandparents have never had to sit in a hospital bed, wondering where the payment was going to come from, or when the call from the insurance company would come, telling them they were no longer cost-effective enough to cover.

All they had to worry about was getting better. The comfort in knowing the best care would be given, with no thought or worry about money, has to be so uplifting. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don't have that luxury -- whether they have insurance or not. What kind of country lets its citizens fall through the cracks like that?

I won't sit here and pretend that Medicare, Medicaid and VA are perfect, but they're a damn sight better than the greedy insurance executives who turn down cancer treatment or cancel policies because they're not making enough millions. Need hip replacement surgery? Sorry, the overlords in Wall Street won't allow it.

Greed might be good, but not when it comes at the expense of someone's health and life. My grandparents don't have to worry about that, and neither did I until I turned 23. Wouldn't it be great if everyone in this country had that peace of mind? The comfort of knowing that no matter what happened, they wouldn't have to worry about a hospital stay costing them their home or their life savings?

Shouldn't that be something this country aspires to? Instead of demonizing public health insurance as socialism or a government takeover, or a goddamn death panel, shouldn't we look at it as a better way to care for our citizens than the current profit-based model?

It makes perfect sense to me, and it makes perfect sense to my grandparents. When will the rest of the country catch up?

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