Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Health Care Reform

My mom is 90 years old. At a time in her life when we are told our citizens are protected from exposure to abuses in the health care system, she finds herself with a 'donut', the size and cost of a mini-cooper, in uncovered prescription drug charges. Her doctor of over 40 years declined to accept payment for his services through Medicare. As a result, every penny of his bills, unencumbered by any restrictions, are paid directly by my mother. And yet, we are the lucky ones.

My son is 27 years old. He has spent years trying to overcome a still undiagnosed problem that has sapped him of much of his strength and has kept him from moving forward with his life. We have tried many avenues in search of answers. Among these was a week long trip to the Mayo Clinic. Prior to my son undergoing any tests, we had a series of phone calls with his health insurance carrier which resulted in their assurance that these tests were covered under the policy. The carrier subsequently reversed its position on virtually every valid, medically necessary procedure undertaken. It would only be through the unwavering persistence of my son over a period of 6 months that the carrier finally relented and covered a large portion of the costs incurred. And we are the lucky ones.

It is incomprehensible to me that this is the best we have been able to do as a nation. When the cost of health care premiums soars every year, when we are forced to take larger and larger deductibles so we are not compelled to drop or in other ways limit our coverage, when we look at health care as a protection against a catastrophe, then the system is a catastrophe. And we are the lucky ones.

I hear Senators Clinton and Obama debating relentlessly over which of their proposals will be more inclusive of the 47 million Americans who are not as fortunate as my family and are unable to afford health insurance. I shudder to think that this is a necessary conversation. We have always been told that we are the lucky ones for living in this country. Why doesn't it always feel that way?

I know there are reasons attached to the failures of the health care system and its reform. I believe there are well intentioned people who devote much of their lives trying to improve the system. But it can't be that the best we have to offer our citizens is to feel like Sisyphus, always pushing a rock up what appears to be an endless hill. Are we supposed to believe that because the rock hasn't crushed us as it escapes our clutches and careens out of control that we are the lucky ones?

So I sit, listen and contemplate. I know that we hear that this time will be different, that this time we will fix what is wrong. I can only imagine that this conversation has been carried on between politicians and the public since the first politician ran for office. I know that , as a nation, we are sadly and obscenely unprotected. I trust that there will come a day in the not too distant future when the rhetoric ends and the real work begins fixing a system that is clearly broken. Only when that day comes, do I believe we will truly be the lucky ones.

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