April 2, 2012

The Health Care Games

Those of you, millions of Americans who, in paying your rent and feeding your families, haven't been able to afford the high cost of health insurance (that actually covers your medical expenses), lend an ear to Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who exposed the underbelly of our country's stance on health care for its citizens with his own particular euphemism. Recently he compared your plight to simply poor game playing in which you just haven't done your best.

While interviewing Romney about his presidential health care intentions during The Tonight Show, Tuesday evening, March 27, Jay Leno asked Romney about his health care intentions for his fellow U.S. citizens and voters.

"It seems to me like children and people with preexisting conditions should be covered." said Leno.

But Romney countered: "People with pre-existing conditions, as long as they've been insured before, they're going to continue to have insurance."

"Suppose they were never insured?" asked Leno.

Romney responded, "Well if they're forty-five years old and they show up and they say I want insurance because I have a heart disease, it's like, 'Hey guys we can't play the game like that. You've got to get insurance while your well and if you get ill, then you'll be covered.'"

I was living in Canada during the time when President Obama was elected and this current health care policy discussion took shape, so I'm not overwhelmed by the weight and confusion of all the seemingly infinite rhetoric that has been bantered about health care policy in this country.

In Canada, I was received as a U.S. citizen on a work permit and within three months I had my OHIP, Ontario Health Insurance Plan card. For three years in the Greater Toronto Area, I never paid a cent for my health care treatments, including much more comprehensive physical exams than I had ever received in the United States, probably due to the excess cost that insurance was unwilling or I unable to pay.

The time from scheduling an appointment to seeing a doctor was short--my last physical being scheduled two days after I asked for it--and the care was as good if not better than any I have received. Yes, taxes on goods and services to pay for it were higher than in the U.S., but it was worth it. I paid no health insurance premiums, no co-payments, no additional lab or doctor fees, only moderate prices on some prescriptions.

During my residency I also experienced my best friend dying of terminal cancer during more than a year of quality health care in hospitals, doctor's offices, his home and hospice. Cancer took him, but not his dignity, nor the investment plans that he had made to care for his young daughter after his death. His last year was spent in saying goodbye to his family and friends, not worrying about the financial burden that he might be leaving them.

In Canada, the media eagerly educates the PUBLIC on how to access and use THEIR health care system, informing residents that they can go immediately with any health concern to a mall clinic, a doctor's office or the emergency room of any hospital. Treatment is readily available. No money is required. The country cares about its people's health.

Most all Canadiens I spoke to were shocked or dumbfounded by my simple explanations of how the health care system works in the U.S. and how so many Americans have to choose whether or not they can afford to be healthy (or even stay alive), having to decide whether or not they can afford medical procedures that could heal them, let alone affording the costs of preventive care. And how many die of breast and colon cancer alone, over lack of funds to pay for regular exams that could eliminate the disease with early detection?

Those same Canadiens, who have lived within the secure knowledge that their nation believes good, available health care is essential, responded to my description of the U.S. health care system almost singularly. "What, how could you ever live that way?"

Indeed, after being back in the states the past year and a half I am asking that question more so around the many people I meet. An elderly, homeless man in Whittier, California who walks the streets with cancerous death spreading rapidly across his face, a single woman in Florida who has lived for years with the pressure of fibroid tumors growing inside her, a father in Montana who suffers in silence for fear that his treatment would cost his family their dreams and provision. So many people in need of the treatment and care that this country has, abundantly.

The glaring question that stands out so blatantly is why, supposedly the greatest nation on earth is wrestling with the issue of who deserves health insurance instead of the one that really matters--how do we deliver existing health care to our citizens who need it?

But then again, maybe we really aren't a nation at all, just a gathering of selfish interests battling for power and supremacy at the acceptable cost of whatever happens to those who don't play the game as well as we do.

In Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge declares to a gentleman seeking help for the poor, that prisons, workhouses, etc. are the best places to deal with the poor. The man of compassion responds, "Many can't go there and would rather die."

Scrooge replies: "If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."

And to all those who haven't played the health insurance game very well & do we dare say it? Well why not? We're saying everything else but what we really mean, which is, "If they can't afford to be well, then they don't deserve to. So why don't they just go away and die so we don't have to deal with them?"

Our government leaders, the media and the politicians of both parties have reduced life and death and the misery of the poor, physical well being of many of our citizens and neighbors to little more than political strategies, while we as their constituents either buy into their fractured treatises or just ignore the clear callousness of these schemes to reduce human compassion to plausible denial. Never in my life have I felt so ashamed of being an American.

And if I've disturbed anyone, good, because this health care game that we are playing is very disturbing.

To our political candidates and leaders, members of the media, the Supreme Court and all Americans who are so certain that you will always have the will for and access to whatever you need to make happen what you want or need--lose all your resources, your support, your hope and your dreams and lose your way too--it happens. Then look at your neighbor and see if you can still find it in yourself to judge another for failing the game we make of life. God forbid that you could do this, because that would be the loneliest hell of all and no one deserves to be without a compassionate, understanding hand reaching out to them. It's why we're alive.


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