In an insightful Op-ed piece in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof tells the weep-worthy story of a truck driver dealing with advanced colon cancer because he delayed seeking care (and then got bad care) due to lack of insurance. It is one of many similar stories that are the real tragedy of our health care system, not the bungled rollout of Obamacare or its intentionally misleading election-trail pitch.
I’ve been complaining for years that my health care choices are determined by a for-profit insurance company, whose first line of defense is almost always pharmeceuticals (but only if they are mass-consumed and thus inexpensive) and who delays diagnostic tools because they are too costly. It took me over a year to get an MRI to diagnose the crack in my right knee cartilege that I guessed I had after slipping on ice and slamming it into a rock a few years ago. Meanwhile, my insurer sent me to physical therapy to do exercises that actually aggravated the chronic pain and that the orthopedist (post-MRI) advised me not to do on a regular basis (along with more mundane activities like climbing hills, kneeling or squatting, sitting for long periods of time, etc.) But my condition is not life-threatening so I will deal with the limitations, grateful to have insisted on the MRI and thus have a diagnosis. (No, First Orthopedist who shall remain nameless: it is not just age or yoga that causes my pain, and those pills you gave me did nothing but make me feel icky.)
It took doctors more than six months of bafflingly clean test results to give my father the scan that finally explained why he had been having shortness of breath. When he collapsed last April and was taken in an ambulance to the E.R., an (undoubtedly expensive) test revealed that he had massive pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. Later lower body scans indicated deep vein thrombosis in both legs. Gee, how could they have missed that for months on end? Right, the insurance company wouldn’t pay for the diagnostic tool until he almost died. Recently he spent three hours on the phone with his insurance entity to get coverage for the new medication his doctor ordered, as the mass-consumed (cheaper) alternatives haven’t produced the desired results. As a retired person, he cannot afford the $100 a day the medication sells for on the free market. Some pharmaceutical company somewhere is making a hefty profits on the backs of people like him. Is this the future we are all doomed to, having to battle for our right to get treatment we need? Fortunately the insurer ultimately acquiesced, but why should a man who has trouble breathing while speaking have to argue his case for three hours?
Obamacare may not be the be-all, end-all. I’m anticipating major glitches like the ones we’ve seen already. And admittedly one of the insurance entities referenced above is the government-run bête noire Medicare/Medicaid (I don’t know which does what and hope I never have to). But is that a justification to throw out the only reasonable step that has been made in my lifetime toward bringing our health care stats into the 21st century? (Read the NYT piece for some embarrassing figures about our global rankings in this area.) I’ve been grateful for the good care I’ve received, but I’m one of the lucky ones who pays for my insurance through my employer. I’ll be just as happy to pay for it through Obamacare, as long as I can get care when I need it — happier, perhaps, if there is finally some oversight on the unmitigated greed that lines the pockets of pharmaceutical and insurance company CEOs and shareholders while working Americans suffer with little or no care.
This is not about handouts. It is about humanity. It is about addressing needless tragedies like the story of the truck driver with colon cancer. It is about taking lesson from our more compassionate European and North American neighbors who have been providing various hybrid models of public and private health care for decades. It is about admitting that, yes, even we Americans might not always do it best.