Health Care Concern, Near and Far: Lawmakers Must Listen to the Voice of Their Constituents 7/18/09 Concord Monitor
To end our national paralysis about health care reform, the voices of the people must be heard. There is a reservoir of private anguish which could sway lawmakers if they bothered to listen to the untold number of horror stories which are accessible but ignored.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has performed a public service by collecting and publishing personal stories about the problems people are having with their health coverage or lack thereof. He solicited these stories by e-mail and received more than 4,000 responses. The personal stories are available on Sanders’s website and include the following:
• A combat-decorated veteran of the Vietnam war died three weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He had been laid off his job and he could not afford COBRA coverage. He delayed going to the doctor until he was in extreme pain. By then, it was too late. The attending physician said that if he had only sought treatment earlier, he would still be alive. He left behind a wife and two teenage sons.
• A 42-year-old single mother was diagnosed with breast cancer which had spread to her brain. She was insured, but her co-pays and deductibles were so high that the expenses forced her to file bankruptcy. What kind of system adds financial pressure to an already scary medical prognosis?
• A low-income Washington state woman had lengthy wait to see a physician. She was uninsured, diabetic and lacked money to pay for medications and checkups. Because she could not afford her medication, she went without and died. She had two young children who will grow up without a mother.
• A 23-year-old volunteer firefighter, part-time EMT and paramedic developed his own medical problems and had to go to a hospital a year ago. He was uninsured and did not have the financial resources to pay his medical bills. He would pay what he could when he could. How is it possible that a young man who risks his life to save others would not be covered?
• The owner of a natural foods supermarket with 50 employees provided health care to all full-time employees at 100 percent paid by the company. Because of increasing cost, the owner had to start including deductibles and then he had to have employees pay for their insurance. The owner ended up spending so much money on health care, more than he ever made in profit, that he had to close the business in 2008.
• The wife of a Missouri man died of cancer in 1989. Her medical bills were more than $100,000. The insurance company refused to pay the bills, stating that the chemotherapy she received was experimental. The man appealed the insurance company’s denial and spent five years unsuccessfully litigating the claim. Although his lawyer recommended bankruptcy, he refused that route. For years after, he paid off the medical bills.
These types of stories are all too common. They are testimonials to the failure of the private insurance model. As Sanders argues, how is it acceptable to leave 46 million Americans completely uninsured and millions more underinsured?
There is a window of opportunity now to fix national health care. It would be a tragedy if this chance slipped away. Who knows when in the future there will be a similar opportunity.
If we cannot have a single payer system, then there at least must be a robust public health insurance option. Such a public health option would be cheaper and more efficient, and it would spend a smaller percentage of dollars on non-health items.
It is ironic that opponents of a public health option are afraid of competition. Adding a public health option would give the public more choice. The old arguments about how such an option is socialism or socialized medicine are stale.
We remain alone among the advanced capitalist countries in not having some form of national health insurance. It is so past time for us to address health care.