Walking into Cadence Hospital was something of a brain rush. For years I strolled those halls between the hospital walls and the cafeteria. There were surgeries and treatments. Chemotherapies and patient recoveries. It was all part of the picture of being a caregiver.
There were also many trips to the cashier and the hospital financial office to figure out bills. Some of them piled up. Others were written off thanks to the charitable arm of Cadence. Over the years we worked with HMOs, PPOs and more than a few I Don’t Knows. COBRA and finally Obamacare. Somehow most of those bills got paid one way or another.
It struck us for years how strange it was to hear people complaining about the politics of health care. Until you’ve sat there getting treatment while knowing the next bill alone might add up to $45,000, none of it really makes much sense politically. We heard stories of people bankrupted by their medical bills, and people who could not get coverage at all.
So we were thankful that somehow, someway we paid our share and insurance covered the rest.
It almost broke us a few times. When I lost my job the day after I informed a company that my wife had cancer it came to pass that we owed $2000 a month just in premiums to remain coverage. We turned in our certificate of “creditable coverage” whatever that means and then scraped and scrambled to earn the money to make those payments. At one point we had to take money from unemployment insurance to pay for health insurance.
It was not my wife’s “fault” that she got cancer. She ate well. Never smoked. Only drank moderately. Ovarian cancer takes women at random just like so many other types of cancer. We’re all walking around with potentially cancerous cells in our bodies. It’s our “job” you might say to try to keep cancer away. But in the end, it’s a product of chance.
As a lifelong runner and endurance athlete I like to think that I’ve put some insurance in the health bank. I realize that’s a ruse in many ways. You can protect yourself from cancer and get heart disease. You can avoid or get a flu shot and the flu comes anyway.
I used to work out so hard I’d make myself sick. There were long, deep bouts with the common cold because my resistance was so low. One time it put me in the hospital with a numb arm because I’d take Tylenol with codeine that affected the nerves in my shoulder.
But until I crashed my bike a couple years ago, and then picked up a sliver in my finger that led to an infection, my journeys to the hospital were pretty limited, other than to care for my late wife. Believe me, that was plenty of time spent in the hospital.
So I walked those halls thinking of the fact that last summer my companion Sue also earned a trip through the surgery room with her bike crash. Then I had surgery at a different hospital on my infected finger.
What I’m saying is that I never take my health for granted. Ever. As we age new challenges arise. My group of Friday Night Dinner friends from church have to be careful not to let conversation devolve into a medical bitch session. They all kid me the most, however. For a while last summer I was always scraping my bald scalp a day or two before dinner, or cutting my hand or picking up some other visible wound for which I get a good teasing.
Maybe I secretly desire the attention. But that’s not it, I know. Sometimes a good scrape or two with pain or blood or even death is a good reminder that we should all be grateful for our basic, good old health.
And if not, we should be grateful for the hospitals and physicians that know how to treat us. And hopefully fix us.
Despite all the vagaries of modern health insurance, it still strikes me that we should be grateful there are people trying to figure out how to make it all work better than it used to do. You can criticize the initial iterations of the Affordable Health Care Act all you want, but the facts show that more people have health care and that insurance premiums are only scheduled to rise by an estimated 5% next year. That’s far better than the 12% per year they increased on average during the recent Bush years.
Yes there are doctors pulling away from the program because the negotiations can be ugly. And yes physicians already have a ton to deal with given regulations over insurance, liability and other medical practice standards. But that’s not strictly the fault of Obamacare. HMOs started that swing years ago, so it’s all part of the arc.
What really needs to take place is grand negotiation in good faith over how and what the American health system should and can do. Is it strictly the responsibility of each individual to care for their own health and pay for it? Is personal health a free market issue or is it part of the social good to provide equal access to health care for every citizen? Are there group dynamics necessary to evolve a better overall system of providing Americans consistent, quality health care. Or is it group dynamics that got us into trouble in the first place? Is corporatized health care causing a ‘health gap’ in the American population by playing favorites with people who work for larger companies?
Ask any small company about their biggest headaches and often they pertain to providing employee benefits such as health care. What if the American system removed this burden from the backs of small business and big business alike, and made it possible for people to shop at will in a truly free market of health care plans without enrollment periods or giant groups that shrink the cost of health care for a selected few while raising the rates for those most at risk?
What if indeed? The public option for health care is necessary to make this happen. Some people who claim to be ‘free market’ advocates don’t have the courage to admit that such an approach would mess with the gravy train they already have.
But what’s the goal, to provide adequate and equal health care opportunities or to sustain a status quo that was getting so out of balance costs were skyrocketing out of control?
Those of us who run and ride and swim might wryly grin that if left to our own devices, we might have an advantage over those who smoke, drink or abuse their bodies and minds with drugs. But we don’t have a pure democracy in America where majority always rules. Our system is based on creating and delivering equal representation, not simply power plays.
In the long run, that’s a better system even if you’re the healthiest person in the world. Because it’s fair that despite circumstance or even bad choices, all people should have equal opportunity to quality health care.