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July 29, 2004

Hope Is On the Way?

John Edwards gave a pretty fine speech last night (text of speech); I watched the last half or so and I'll admit he had my attention. A lot of it was simply style; the man knows how to captivate an audience. But he said many things that I do hope we'll have a chance to hold him and John Kerry to beginning next January when they're sworn in as the next President and Vice President of the U.S. One of those things was about health care:

We can build one America where we no longer have two health care systems. One for people who get the best health care money can buy and then one for everybody else, rationed out by insurance companies, drug companies, and HMOs — millions of Americans who don't have any health insurance at all.

It doesn't have to be that way.

We have a plan that will offer everyone the same health care your Senator has. We can give tax breaks to help pay for your health care. And we will sign into law a real Patients' Bill of Rights so you can make your own health care decisions.

This had special resonance for me because I'd just gotten off the phone w/L., whose father is currently in the hospital. It looks like he's going to be ok, no thanks to our brilliant system of "managed" care. Long story short, he came much too close to dying Tuesday when his HMO tried to tell his doctor how to care for him. The doctor said L.'s dad needed emergency surgery, and that he needed to do it at a larger, nearby hospital. The HMO said, no, that hospital is not part of our network; you'll have to ship him 50 miles away to another hospital where he'll be assigned a new doctor not familiar w/the case. The doctor argued w/the HMO and finally told it, "Fine, I'll move him where you want him to go. But he's going to die on the way and I'm going to help his family sue you."

The HMO backed down. The doctor moved L's dad to the closer hospital, did the surgery, and L.'s dad is now recovering—finally. He's not out of all danger yet, but things are looking much better.

I'm tell this story because it's shocking, horrifying, and absolutely common. People are dealing with this kind of obscene greed from HMOs every single day, and I'm sure people die or suffer needlessly every day because they're not lucky enough to have a doctor who will stand up to the HMO, or because the HMO won't bend no matter how livid the doctor gets. I'm sure all too often the HMO does its cost-benefit analysis and decide, hey, the chance this patient will die is X, and even if this patient dies and we get sued, that will cost less than if we had to do this doctor-recommended procedure for every patient who needed it; therefore, lets gamble w/this patient's life and we'll make more money in the long run. That's the bottom line: Your HMO will murder you if there's money in it. Can you say "pathological pursuit of profit"? If you weren't yet sure what "purely self-interested, incapable of concern for others, amoral, and without conscience" meant, now you know.

And this kind of obscene immorality is happening to everyone—it's probably happened to you, or to someone you know and love. And we put up with it. We swallow it. We complain about it, but we don't demand change. Aren't you proud to be an American?

But it's even worse than I ever knew because this isn't a story about someone w/out a health care plan, or a story about someone w/a low cost, bare bones plan; L.'s dad has (or was supposed to have) one of the best health care plans in the country. He was a lifetime employee of a major corporation and he's got "great" insurance. So we have millions of Americans w/out health care of any sort, we have more millions with really bad budget plans, and now even if you have money, if you have top-of-the-line insurance, you're still not safe from HMOs.

So John Edwards is promising that hope is on the way. He and John Kerry have a plan for health care; they claim they will:

lower family premiums by up to $1,000 a year, cut waste from the system, lower the cost of prescription drugs to provide real relief to seniors, and use targeted tax cuts to extend affordable, high-quality coverage to 95 percent of Americans, including every child.

I don't see how any of that will change the control HMOs have over care or reduce their incentives to trade my health for their profit. Yeah, maybe the Kerry/Edwards plan would make us better off than where we are now, but it seems to me that health care in this country will remain tragically unjust until we put doctors back in charge of health care and take the profit out. Hope may be on the way, but real hope for a real solution still seems a long way off.

Posted July 29, 2004 07:00 AM | election 2004 general politics

Oh man, I am so sorry to hear that. Please give L. our love and tell her we're thinking about her and her dad. Our most sincere wishes that everything works out ok. Let us know how things go.

J's dad was just diagnosed with prostate cancer and his HMO gave him shit about the hospital his doctor wanted him to go to. And it was in-network. Just fuckin' unbelievable! I just know that we're going to have problems with our HMO when the baby is born. They've already severely circumscribed what sorts of tests we can and can't do, to say nothing of limiting the ultrasounds. If it wasn't for the fact J is in a high-risk group for birth defects (over 35) we wouldn't be able to get amnio. And this from a health plan at a catholic university. Which I guess proves that the sanctity of life is a great thing as long as you're not paying for it

Posted by: Famous P at July 29, 2004 07:37 PM

Catch 22. kinda. You won't get elected by taking on the HMOS. But we wont get meaningful health care till we do. The US spends as much per-capita public money on health care as does most of the EU. For that they get universal health care. We get insurance and medical profits.

Posted by: actus at July 30, 2004 08:21 AM

Egads. I second Famous P--give my love to L. and family. I'll be thinking of them.

And to you, too, P--I'm sorry to hear about J.'s dad. Hope everything turns out ok.

I'm still getting used to having insurance coverage, period.

Posted by: raquel at July 30, 2004 09:40 AM

ai, you know what Michael Moore's next project is about don't you?

Posted by: Steve at July 30, 2004 09:54 AM

I'm so sorry to hear about J's father, and I hope everything turns out fine.

I'm struggling with my supposedly-good health care coverage during my pregnancy. It's awful. The bills are impossible to understand, the reimbursements are always late, and I feel like I'm being nickel-and-dimed by my insurance company. I certainly don't think my overworked doctors are getting the money.

If I am remembering correctly, this has been a great year for health insurance profits. :-/

Posted by: transmogriflaw at July 31, 2004 01:51 AM

Sorry, I meant L. But I see there is a J. in the comments who also needs good wishes, so I send them that way too.

Posted by: transmogriflaw at July 31, 2004 01:53 AM

Thanks everyone for the good wishes. L's father seems to be improving steadily and should be back to his usual self within a week or two. Good luck to everyone w/the HMO nightmares that inevitably await us all. But, as Steve points out, perhaps help is on the way: Michael Moore's next project is an expose of the health care industry.

Posted by: ambimb at July 31, 2004 03:01 PM

The health system here is, as you clearly indicate, an attack on the individual and their life. And it costs the family, the society, the corporations and everybody involved.
Perhaps John et al. would have to take away the fallacy of corporation as individual.

Posted by: Camilo at August 1, 2004 03:04 PM

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