Events of the past couple of weeks have convinced me, if I hadn’t been convinced before, that it is time for our Congress to do the right thing by the American people and pass health care reform. Yeah, I wish that a bi-partisan plan which has taken into consideration every possible penny of expense and where it will come from would be on the table and ready to go, but I’m beginning to believe that’s an impossibility in an atmosphere that has turned something we should think of as simply a basic human right into both a competetive, profit making industry and a political issue. Shame on us for allowing that to happen!
There are two men whom I’ve become close friends with over the past five years who illustrate the need for comprehensive health care reform in America beautifully. Both men are, at the present time, in their last days on earth. One is in the advanced stages of cancer and after an unsuccessful round of chemotherapy, has decided not to move on with another, and has stopped all of the medication and therapy he was receiving, and moved into a hospice care center. I’ll call him Mike. The other suffers from cardio-vascular problems, is past ninety years of age, and experiencing the beginning of organ shut-down. He, too, has decided against receiving further treatment and has been moved to a nursing home for pain management until the end comes. I’ll call him John.
Mike was a businessman who worked in banking, finance and investment for most of his career. He built up a substantial stock portfolio, savings, and worked for a business that provided him with full health care coverage of the highest quality. Living, as he did, in a city with access to some of the best hospitals in the country, when he was originally diagnosed with cancer, he was able to receive the finest treatment available on the face of the planet, and survived the original diagnosis by over 30 years. Insurance premiums, co-payments, deductibles, have never been a problem for him, because since he has the best plans available, he has the lowest rates available as well. Once he reached retirement age, and qualified for medicare, his secondary insurance coverage kicked in and he’s been provided with medical care for a very low out of pocket cost, mainly the premium for the secondary policy. He is able to spend his last days being cared for around the clock in a comfortable hospice center.
John has not been as fortunate, though he worked just as hard, and lived in the same city, and country, there is quite a difference between the medical care he was able to access as a result of what he has been able to afford. John worked in the hardware business after getting out of the Army after the war (the Big One) and then entered the ministry, serving for more than fifty years as an associate pastor. He was able to manage his finances and comfortably care for his family for all of that time. As a minister, he was able to opt out of medicare and social security, and invest those dollars in private sector enterprises which promised to provide both a larger retirement income than the government could do, and better health care coverage than the government’s medicare program, especially since John qualified for VA benefits. Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy, and with things never being exactly as they are presented in commercial enterprises, that hasn’t exactly been the case. His limited health care coverage has forced his family to make decisions regarding his medical care based on what his provider will pay for, rather than what is best for John because they cannot afford, on retirement income, to pay the difference in the actual costs. The Veteran’s health care system, because of government funding cuts, is jammed to capacity, with long waiting lists for care, and even six to eight hour waits just to see a physician. Though he lives in an America which boasts of having the best health care system in the world, John doesn’t have the money to access it, and must settle for what his insurance provider tells him he can have, based on the limits of what they will pay, which is far less than the best available. He is spending his last days in a nursing home, sharing a semi-private room with three other patients, waiting on a bed at the VA center, if it comes available before he passes on.
Two men, both in the same city, in the same country, with the same opportunity, equally hard workers, equally industrious, but left, in their final days, with vastly different options related to their health care, and their final days because a system that claims to be the world’s best is not equitably distributed, simply because of the dollar amounts involved. How many millions of other Americans find themselves in the same situation?
Listening to Massachussetts’ newly elected Senator Scott Brown talk about the health care proposal yesterday prompted me to make this post. Mr. Brown, frankly, is flat wrong in his assertion that “the American people” don’t want health care reform, or that they, universally, don’t want this particular version of it “passed over their heads by the Democrats.” Mr. Brown is a prosperous attorney, with lots of money, and even prior to his election to the senate, didn’t have to worry about his or his family’s health care coverage and now, as a member of Congress, has better coverage than just about any other American. He can afford to obfuscate and attempt to delay and blockade reform. But there are a lot of other people who can’t. My wife and I, who are in the middle class, both working, both earning good wages, are at the point where another increase in our health care premiums will force us into decisions about having to cut back on other things, perhaps downsizing our housing, or adjusting our transportation, or cutting out more leisure activities (which we have already severely limited). But I know many others who have had to cut back on essentials, who choose between prescription medication and food, and who simply put off seeking medical care for chronic conditions simply because they cannot afford it.
Do we really believe in the sanctity of human life? How can it be, then, that in America, we have the best health care in the world, and we are the most prosperous country in the world, but those three things are essentially meaningless to the uninsured, underinsured, and to those who are becoming increasingly hard pressed because of the percentage of their spendable income that is being demanded to pay for coverage, not health care itself?
It’s time for politicians like Scott Brown to stop licking their finger and sticking it up into the wind to see which way it is blowing, and then voting that way. Opposition to the current health care proposal has fallen below the 50% mark, so to claim that they are doing “what the American people want,” like both he and Senator McCain have done recently is just not accurate. But here is a chance for some Washington politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, to do something right, regardless of what the opinion polls say, and to act out of sheer conviction, regardless of the political consequences, if indeed there will be any. As a Christian, I am convicted and saddened by the situation as it already exists, in which many people simply do not have health insurance for themselves or their children. And as an individual, I fear that the day is close at hand when I will not be able to afford the health care coverage I need to take care of my own condition, requiring daily medication that I couldn’t even come close to being able to afford if it were not for insurance coverage.
I have a feeling the overall reaction to politicians standing up to do the right thing will be considerably different than the political consequences predicted by the opposition.