Sunday, August 30, 2009

One Moms Take on Health Care Reform...Where Did the Term 'Socialized Medicine' Come From Anyway?



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1 in 2 men will battle some form of cancer in their lifetime, 1 in 3 women will face cancer in their lifetime(1).   In other words, if you’re a man you have a 50/50 chance of facing the cancer demon. Woman slightly less.  Having lived among children battling cancer, having seen cancer steal youth and life from our young, has caused me to think about this ‘health care reform’ our nation is battling over.  Most of my family and close friends tend to be Republican. Most are against ‘socialized medicine’.  Few may realize that Kevin’s treatment was originally denied by our insurance company until I signed a waiver allowing the St. Jude administrative staff and attorneys handle the denial. Thank heaven, because I could not deal with that battle and treatment for Kevin at the same time.  

Danny Thomas and his friends believed that I and every other parent who are lucky enough to get their kid into St. Jude if  cancer is apart of the diagnosis should not have to worry about the medical bills, but only about getting through the intense treatment. And it is intense, scary, and heartbreaking. They believed they could make a difference in other lives, and did so successfully. On a side note, I truly believe that how St. Jude provides amazing health care needs to be analyzed by the powers that be through out this debate. It is an amazing system. It needs to be looked at and reproduced. When a doctor felt Kevin needed a test he got it, no battle with the insurance company or approval process. Each kid is assigned to a clinic and that clinic has a scheduler that does all of the scheduling and coordinating of appointments between different doctors and specialities, and there are lots. It took a huge burden off of me and there are moments I really miss it.

Our insurance company still denies some of services Kevin requires. Kevin was blessed to be at the best place for his type of cancer. We were blessed to have friends, family and strangers set up a  cancer fund that helps to pay for the medicines and treatments that health insurance doesn't cover now, and also flights when necessary.  

Cancer treatment is just one part of the cost. The kids who are lucky enough to survive are left with late effects. Health problems, some more than others.  Kids like Kevin have an increase risk of strokes in their late teens and twenties. They face weight issues as their thyroids have been zapped by radiation. They don't produce growth hormone as a normal child would not only affecting height but also affecting cardiovascular development. These kids lose IQ from radiation and chemo that saved them, leaving them with learning disabilities they didn't have before.  

I never fully understood the cost of cancer until last year. Emotionally, financially, career, education, family, everything can be compromised with a cancer diagnosis. Cancer didn't run in my family.  And there is no child there who smoked, drank too much and lived a bad lifestyle to have asked for this illness. They haven’t been on the planet long enough. I think most educated people understand that.

In the effort to understand I have been doing a little history digging and was surprised to learn that ‘health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege’(2) is not as new of an idea as I had thought. The history of health care for all began with Teddy Roosevelt in 1912(3) with his campaign promises of national health care insurance, woman’s suffrage, and safe working conditions for factory workers. The need for health care insurance had risen from the dawn of modern medicine as we know it which began in the 1920’s. That's when doctors and hospitals began charging more than most individuals could easily pay. ‘To close this gap, which worsened with the advent of the Great Depression, the administrator of Baylor Hospital in Dallas created a system that caught on elsewhere and eventually evolved into Blue Cross. The Blues were essentially nonprofit health insurers who served local community organizations like the Elks. In exchange for a tax break, Blue Cross organizations kept premiums reasonably low.’(4)
In the 1940’s President Roosevelt asks Congress for "economic bill of rights," including right to adequate medical care for all U.S. citizens. The medical care for all failed. Shortly after his election, President Truman offered a national health program plan, proposing a single system that would include all of American society. The plan was denounced by the American Medical Association (AMA), and called a Communist plot by a House subcommittee.

We all know that premiums are no longer reasonably low and that corporations are scaling back their health care. In short we are getting less coverage for more costs. For the small 6 person company I worked for in 2009, the health care insurance costs went up 11% the previous  year and 14% the next year year. The sales were down at least 50% that year, it was almost impossible not to pass the increase onto our employees who were not getting any raises and in some cases have taken pay cuts. This story is being repeated over and over again and I know the small company I work for is not alone in this. Employer based health care began in the 1940’s just as penicillin came into use and wage controls were implemented on American companies. Employers began to offer health care insurance as an employment benefit to attract employees.(5)

This leads into one of the many issues with our current health care insurance system that is mostly dependent upon employment when you couple that with the stats that 1 in 2 men will battle cancer at some point in their lives and 1 in 3 women. As of right now the Family Medical Leave Act only allows for 3 months off without pay. Some corporations have nice leave policies and there is hope of keeping your medical insurance (because of the riders the company has with the insurance company) and possibly your job through a health care crisis. You may or may not have an income during this time; that is mostly depending on your disability insurance. But the number of people of who actually keeps their jobs through a major medical crisis is getting less and less. Medical bills are the biggest contributor to bankruptcy. It destroys futures of children, hopes of retirement. Even with St. Jude making sure our medical insurance understood that the treatment in Memphis cost considerable less that the treatment offered at our home hospital along with a better success rate. Our insurance still did not reimburse St. Jude for some of Kevin’s preventive care screening such as hearing tests to see if one of the chemo drugs was affecting his hearing, as it does cause hearing loss in some patients. Kevin’s left foot drags similar to a stroke victim, a year out of treatment. We are so happy to have Kevin alive and forever grateful for the extra time we have with him, but he still has hurdles that St. Jude does not cover and it is questionable if our medical insurance will cover it. As it is Kevin is a liability to the insurance company, dragging down shareholder value. Herein lies my other problem with our current system.

I don’t believe in quick fixes and the current proposal isn’t foul proof, it will need tweaking as we move through it…… if we can ever get past the first step at least we are heading toward something better. I do recognize that this current system only takes care of an increasingly elite group. I believe strongly in the good in majority of people. I experienced it first hand last year. So I am baffled as to why it is some believe that health care is a privileged mostly only for the educated and at least the low end of middle class? Health care even for the lower middle class is disappearing as I type this.

Kevin and other kids who have survived cancer aren’t considered easily insurable after their 25th birthday and can no longer be on their parent’s insurance. And they have done nothing wrong, they have overcome something incredible difficult and yet are punished in the current health care insurance system we have. I have remained relatively healthy for three decades, paying into a system I have barely used except for 3 pregnancies. 2 of them are considered very healthy and require very little medical care as of yet.

In short, I would take something as opposed to nothing; some guarantee that Kevin and kids like Kevin won’t lose the insurance that is really important to their livelihood especially as they grow older and face the repercussions of what we did to their bodies to extend their lives. I have trouble seeing the difference between a governments empowered body helping determine my son’s care verses an insurance company that is worried about the bottom line. Our American insurance companies have moved from shared risk to making profits for shareholders. Choosing money over life, which seems fine to some because everyone is entitled to make money…. as long as it’s not your child’s life on the line.

A few last thoughts. Poverty breeds crime, if a family is placed into poverty because of a health care crisis, where does it leave the children? I believe in building strong communities to build a strong society. We are all in this together and what happens to one effects us all eventually unless you live on an island with no other humans.

The question here is so basic and simple. Should everyone have access to adequate health care without having to mortgage the house and the kid’s futures?

For those worried about the increase in taxes that this proposed insurance for all will place on them I ask a few questions, are you afraid that these taxes will not allow you to make the mortgage, be able to clothe and feed your children because of the tax burden? For those families facing a health crisis those are legitimate concerns. Too many of our senators are in the same upper tax bracket as those who are so concerned about the increase tax burden. I am confident they aren’t going to undermine upper incomes too much.

One final observation from my recent experience, it is apparent there are not enough volunteers at our city children’s hospitals to be with the children who are in the hospital alone most of the day. Majority working class parents have to work to keep their health care and pay the bills. Kevin has spent enough time at our city children’s hospital for me to see there is so much need,  and I wish everyone was as lucky as we are, because our friends and friends of friends cared enough to make sure we didn’t lose our house, that I wasn’t alone with an infant, nor wasn't able to take leave from my job while trying to get Kevin through treatment.






(1)American Cancer Society 2009 Cancer Statistics Presentation
(2) Ted Kennedy Dec 9, 1978 Memphis Tenn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhYtMm

(3) NY Times Roosevelt’s Own Creed Set Forth, http://www.nytimes.com/packages/flash/health/HEALTHCARE_TIMELINE/1912_roosevelt.pdf

(4)A Short History of Health Care by Timothy Noah, Slate Magazine March 13,2007
(5) PBS Health Care Crisis Timeline http://www.pbs.org/healthcarecrisis/history.htm