Don’t let John die

November 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Obama Administration, Politics | 1 Comment
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Recently The New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof, titled Are we going to let John die? It’s the story of a man who will die soon—because he can’t get healthcare.

A friend wrote me and said he didn’t understand why John is having problems with his healthcare, that he doesn’t think our healthcare system is broken, that he doesn’t think the healthcare reform bills would do anything for John, and that he doesn’t want the government stepping in and spending lots of money.

This is my response.

Here’s why is John having problems with his healthcare:

  • Because of his condition he is unable to work.
  • Because he is unable to work he lost his health insurance.
  • His wife’s insurance company won’t cover him because he has a pre-existing condition—and neither will any other insurance companies.
  • Emergency rooms can’t do much for him. They can give him a pain pill, but they can’t treat the condition. And he’s gone to the ER so often that one hospital told him not to come back until he gets insurance.
  • In August he qualified for Medicaid, but the payment rates are so low in Oregon that he can’t find a doctor who will do the operation he needs.

The healthcare reform bills would help John in a couple of ways. Both bills would make insurance companies take him on despite his pre-existing condition. The House bill (and probably the Senate bill) would prohibit his insurance company from dropping him because he lost his job. And a strong public option would reduce premium costs by making health insurance companies compete.

If our healthcare system isn’t broken, how could John’s problem be solved?

He’s going to die. He’s going to die because he doesn’t have health insurance, or the money to pay for the healthcare that would save his life. He is one of the roughly forty-eight thousand people who die each year because they are underinsured or uninsured.

Healthcare reform is expensive, sure. Yet the Congressional Budget Office says that both the House and Senate bills will more than meet President Obama’s requirement that they “not add a dime to the deficit.” They will actually reduce the deficit. Can we afford healthcare reform? Yes.

But healthcare reform is not simply a financial issue. It’s a moral issue. We have the ability, so it is immoral and unethical to evade our responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves. It would be nice if friends, relatives, churches, and social organizations could take care of the problem. But they can’t. It is simply too big, too complex, and too expensive for that. Who is left?

We can’t afford not to reform our healthcare system! We must do the right thing and make healthcare available to everybody.

The Republicans, Joe Lieberman, and the Blue Dog Democrats are doing everything they can do to keep the status quo. I don’t suppose most of them want John to die, or would simply let him die. But apparently they would rather see John die than lose the contributions they get from the health insurance companies. And most Republicans simply want to see President Obama fail because they think it will be to their political advantage—but that’s another discussion.

We won in the House, and we cannot let healthcare reform be emasculated or defeated in the Senate. Write or call your senators—both of them—and tell them that, like most of the people in your state, you want real health reform, including a strong public option. They’ll listen, because you have something the health insurance companies don’t have: the vote.


House passes major healthcare reform bill: Cheers from the left, boos from the right

November 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Obama Administration, Politics | 1 Comment

It was no big surprise. Saturday evening the House passed its healthcare reform bill—certainly the most important healthcare legislation to be passed since Medicare. The sad part is the number of Democrats who voted against it. My representative did. Despite letters and phone calls from his district (23% of the non-elderly residents of Mr. McIntyre’s district are uninsured) Mr. McIntyre voted the way his real constituents—the health insurance industry—wanted him to vote. He voted no.

But the bill passed, and most of us are cheering and rolling up our sleeves in preparation for the Senate debate. Of course there are those who oppose this legislation, and some of them responded to the email I sent around last night. For example, my son the Conservative (oh, where did I go wrong?) wrote:

“He’s going to vote against it? Good! You’re right, I should call him and congratulate him for taking the right stance. This healthcare reform bill, as I understand it, is a fiscal abortion. It is time for our government to stop spending money like mad!! Obama has TRIPLED(!!!) our national debt in less than a year! Enough with entitlements! How about we work for and earn what get?”

I should perhaps tell you that my son Peter has three children of his own, plus two stepchildren. One of Peter’s kids is in the U.S. Marines, and is to be deployed this Spring to Afghanistan. Another is a Senior at SUNY New Paltz, majoring in Theater Arts. Another, just over a year old, is the family comedian. And Peter’s two step-daughters are in elementary school.

The following is my response (with minor edits):

“If you think the bill is a fiscal abortion you don’t know what it says.  It will actually reduce the National Debt!

 “When you say that President Obama has tripled the national debt, you forget that Bush left office with the economy going over a cliff and two hugely expensive wars eating us up.  The Bush administration rammed a fiscal stimulus package through, but it was completely unmonitored, and we will probably never know how the money was actually spent.

“The Obama administration fiscal stimulus had more teeth in it (although not nearly enough) and has brought the economy back from the brink.  The package didn’t go far enough, according to many economists, but the economy is showing signs of recovery.  Unfortunately employment has not recovered, and according to the administration, job creation is now the economic priority. It should be.

“Think about this:  suppose I were to get some debilitating disease and need nursing home care.  Without Medicare I’d literally have to beggar myself to get that care, and if the disease lasted more than a few months you’d have to help too:  Sell your house, trade in your vehicles on clunkers, and tell Abby, Emily, and Fred to forget about college.  Would you do that?  I hope not.

 “‘Work for what we earn and get’ is a good idea, as is the idea of helping your needy family members. In today’s world the government must step in because few us have the financial strength to provide the help that may be necessary. The “family” has to be a lot bigger to make it possible to support the members.  Things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA are supporting your needy family members, and that’s good.   Helping our needy family members across the nation is the right thing to do.  Did you read my blog?  45,000 Americans died last year because they were uninsured or underinsured.  Is that right?  I don’t think so.

 “Can you rely on the private sector?  Well…no.  Between 2000 and 2007 health insurance company profits rose by about 400%.  The cost of healthcare caused over a million bankruptcies last year; over 1.5 million people lost their homes.  Is that right?  I don’t think so.

 “Healthcare reform is not just a financial or philosophical issue.  It is those, but it is also a moral issue.  Yesterday’s House vote was a mighty victory on both fronts, and I celebrate it with my mind and my spirit.

 “Our next challenge is the Senate, and I hope you’ll become an enthusiastic supporter of healthcare reform.  After all, it’s in your own interest!”

I post these words—Peter’s and mine—with his permission, and because I hope they will reassure those of you who are on the left and perhaps even change some minds on the right. Please, dear readers, think about it.

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