Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Healthcare for All

I have been working on this health care post for over a year. Yep. You read that right. A YEAR.

I've had a more difficult time with this post than anything I've ever tried to write. I have thought a lot about why this post has been so difficult and it boils down to two very basic things. Health care is complicated and it is personal. And for me, it is personally complicated.

For the next few paragraphs, let us put all the rhetoric about a "government takeover" of health care aside. Let us, just for the few minutes it takes to read this post, release our fears of having the "government decide if I receive health care". Let us set the uber complicated policy aside and let us just examine, in a practical and personal way what my experience with our health care system has been.

The vast majority of Americans that have health insurance receive their coverage through a plan that is administered through their place of employment. Or, as in my case, the place of employment of their spouse. We are the only developed nation on the planet with this system.

This system, for the most part, has worked well for me, my husband, and my children. Early in my marriage, before I had children, my husband and I each carried insurance on ourselves through our own employers. The cost to us during this time was very small. And, because we were young and healthy, we used very few of our plans' resources. All was right in my naive, healthy and young little world.

I gave birth to my son a few days after I turned thirty. Before my maternity leave was up, I decided I wanted to leave my job at Hewlett Packard (yeah I know, I wish I could have that decision to make over again) and stay home full time with my son. I went back to work full time for a few months, until we were able to arrange our finances to live off just one income. With that being accomplished, I quit my job and my son and I rolled onto my husband's health care plan. And the health insurance that I had been able to access, at an affordable rate, for the last nine years, terminated the day I left Hewlett Packard.

Three months after my husband became the sole provider for our young family and his employer became the sole provider of our health insurance, my husband fell ill. His symptoms of double vision and dizziness were baffling and frightening. He visited several doctors, completed a few rounds of antibiotics for a suspected sinus infection, and finally ended up in his opthamologist's office for a check up. Just as he was being sent out of the office with a clean bill of eye health, he experienced an episode of his mysterious symptoms while he was in the presence of the doctor. The doctor immediately sent him across the street to the hospital for an MRI. After the MRI, he was sent to a neurologist to discuss the results of what was going on inside his brain.

He had Multiple Sclerosis.

He was thirty-two.

He had a non-working wife.

A baby.

A job, a mortgage, and a car payment.

He was going to have Multiple Sclerosis for the rest of his life.

There is no cure.

The treatment is very expensive. Without insurance, his oral medication is $150 per month. His injectible medication is $1400 per month.

$18,600 per year to fight off a disease that has the potential to rob my husband of his eye sight, his mobility, and his livelihood. Which also means that MS has the ability to rob him and our family of our health insurance.

My husband began treatment shortly after his diagnosis and two years later he was doing so well that we felt confident enough to add our daughter to our family.

Sixteen days before my daughter turned one, my husband's company shut it's doors. On the last day of the month. This meant that as of midnight on that day we had no health insurance.

COBRA coverage for our family was $1200 per month. My husband's unemployment benefits were $330 per week. Basic math tells you those numbers don't add up very well.

We were very fortunate. My husband found a new job within three weeks and with it, health insurance. However, it was during these three weeks that I realized that my exit from the work force had actually put my family at real financial risk.

Two years later, I went back to work. And I breathed a small sigh of relief. At least with us both working we would have a safety net not only for income, but also for insurance if one of us were to ever lose our job again.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of experiencing what it is like to lose a job. I'm not alone. Over ten percent of Americans that are still looking for work are unemployed. Some statistics put the real unemployment rate somewhere in the neighborhood of seventeen percent.

I can tell you from my recent experience that unless you have an employment contract (and who does?) your employer has all the power in the employer/employee relationship. And that usually includes the power over whether or not you have health insurance. And not just you. This means your spouse and your children as well.

My husband and I are college educated. We are bright. We work hard. We have a strong work ethic. My husband has an MBA and almost twenty two years of work experience. And if he lost his job tomorrow, his health insurance would go with it.

I support health care reform, a public option, and even a Medicare for All system. I'm not a socialist. I'm not looking for the government to take care of me. I don't want or need a free ride.

I do want every citizen in my nation to have access to affordable, quality health care. I believe health care is a human right - not a privilege available to the wealthy or those lucky enough to currently have a job.

I know the policy is difficult. I know the path ahead is fraught with emotion and fear. I know it will be expensive.

But I ask you, American to American, since when is it okay to take a pass on doing what is right because it is hard?

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