Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Join the healthcare debate

According to the recent New York Times/CBS poll, the majority of Americans wants a government run healthcare system and would be willing to pay extra taxes for it. Of the people participating in the poll, 85% reportedly believe the healthcare system needs to be “fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt.”

Google the words “healthcare poll” and you’ll find articles from the Wall Street Journal to bloggers on the street debating this subject – usually in no gentle terms.

I’ve been reading the letters to the editor in my own local paper, though, and repeatedly I see the support that the New York Times' poll expressed. People are tired – exhausted, actually – with the constant fear of bankruptcy and ruin because of the high cost of health care.

Oh sure, most of us have insurance. But most of us also know friends or family members, if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, who had insurance but who still experienced the nightmare of our healthcare system’s dysfunction.

Like my friend, Melanie, who has been clean of her dual-sited cancer now for more than two years. The medication she takes to keep her that way costs nearly $1,000 per month. That’s the co-pay after her insurance kicks in its share.

Or my oldest daughter who, at age 23 is still on our family health insurance plan. In the current job market, she is unable to find a job that includes health insurance, or pays enough to allow her to purchase her own private coverage. She’s a college grad and a willing worker, but she’s stuck.

One person writing in to our local paper notes, “I’ve been driving on ‘socialized’ streets all my life, and sending my kids to ‘socialized’ schools. It works reasonably well in those areas – what’s so awful about the idea of ‘socialized’ medicine?” Used in this way, the term “socialized” simply means “publicly funded.” Seriously, what IS so wrong about that?

My favorite line from the entire last season of the TV show, Desperate Housewives, occurred when Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan Mayer, was arguing with her old boyfriend who now wanted to marry her to avoid being deported back to Canada. Frustrated with his demands, she resists, saying, “It’s Canada – it’s not Iran. It’s like American, but with free health insurance.”

People from this country often point to Canada as an example of healthcare gone wrong. Maybe it’s different now, but as a graduate student many years ago, living in Canada and paying for student coverage in the national health insurance program, I loved it. Despite a series of minor health problems, one of which required outpatient surgery, worries about cost or access never once took my mind off my studies or my future. I was covered, for whatever I needed. I was free to choose my own provider, and I recall no long waits for appointments, either. What I remember was a series of health care professionals who treated me with respect, educating me about my condition and my needs and inviting me to participate in the decisions about my care.

As the population of the United States ages, we’ll all experience more health care needs. We’ll all pay for it, too, one way or another.

From my daughter, who would likely require publicly supported health care with one major illness or accident, were she not on our policy, to my grandmother, who is on the waiting list for a Medicaid-funded nursing home bed in her small town; we all pay the price of healthcare.

Let’s find a system that, like our schools and roads, offers access to everyone, no matter what their income level. Let’s include long term care in the conversation, as well. Our roads may not be perfect and our schools may have challenges of their own, but in these areas at least we can boast some level of world leadership. In healthcare? Not so much.

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