Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Health Care, the 2012 Election, and Why You Should Care

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Folks, even though I can’t stand it when people snipe at each other over the election (as I said in my previous blog in a “quick hit”), there are legitimate issues that need to be discussed.  To wit: health care.

Now, why am I bringing this up?  It’s simple — I just read two heartbreaking columns in the New York Times online edition by writer Nicholas Kristof (the second one is called “Scott’s Story and the Election”) about the life and death of his friend, Scott Androes.  Scott, you see, was self-employed, didn’t make a whole lot of money in his later years, and went without health care because he didn’t have health insurance.

Many people do this, in this day and age.

However, Scott’s story turned tragic when he found blood in his urine.   At this point, he went to the doctor; after some twists and turns, it turned out that Scott’s PSA was extremely high (4 is normal; Scott’s was over 1100) and that he had Stage 4 Prostate Cancer.  He started getting the treatment he needed — fortunately his local hospital was quite good and wrote off most of the care he needed (this was essential, as the cash cost was $550,000 — no misprint) — but it was not enough.  Scott Androes died at only 52.

The reason Kristof cares (aside from being a compassionate human being) is that Scott was Kristof’s college roommate.  Their lives diverged to a degree, but Kristof knew what was going on with his friend — knew that Scott Androes was, in general, a thoughtful and practical human being who tried his best to do what he felt was right.  But because he was low-income in the latter years of his life, Scott skimped on health care because he couldn’t afford health insurance — something Kristof’s first column about Scott called, in its headline, “A Possibly Fatal Mistake.”

It’s wrong that the United States allows men like Scott Androes to die far earlier than they should, merely because they lack financial means to buy affordable health insurance.  (Note that Kristof carefully explains that for many years, Scott did have enough money to buy health insurance and chose not to do so.  But my guess is that in the last few years of Scott’s life, where he was only making $13,000 per year as a part-time tax consultant, Scott no longer had the means to buy the health insurance that may have saved his life.)

Kristof is right that when people lack health insurance, they are afraid to go to doctors.  Thus, they put off regular screenings.  Which means if problems are found later, they’re going to be harder to treat — if not impossible — and far more expensive to treat, to boot.

I know this full well, because my best friend, Jeff Wilson, died last year one week before his 48th birthday.  (I wrote extensively about Jeff at the time; please see previous blogs about Jeff’s life, death, and my difficulties in coming to terms with his loss.)  Jeff definitely is someone Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney needs to know about, as Romney has insisted that people supposedly do not die in the United States because they’re poor because “we have emergency rooms.”  Yet that completely misses the point; people do die every single day because they lack money, they lack health insurance, and thus they don’t go to doctors when perhaps their illnesses are still treatable.

And in case I haven’t made the point strongly enough, here it is — my friend Jeff died because he was poor.  Because he didn’t have medical insurance.  And because he was afraid of racking up big bills he knew he couldn’t afford to pay, he didn’t go to the doctor soon enough.

That is the main reason why my friend, Jeff Wilson, one of the brightest and kindest men I’ve ever known, did not live to see his 48th birthday.  And for anyone to say otherwise is completely and utterly ludicrous . . . which is why I have no sympathy for Republicans like Mitt Romney or his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, when they insist that people don’t die in this country for lack of health care due to being poor.

Maybe Mitt Romney means well; I’d like to think he does.  Maybe Paul Ryan means well, too — as he’s my U.S. Rep., I know his record rather well, so I have a much more jaundiced view of him than I do of Romney — and of course I’d like to believe that Ryan, too, means well.

However, the fact is that our health care system is completely and irretrievably broken.  And while the Obama “Affordable Health Care Act” is far from perfect — I don’t think it went nearly far enough, and the burden on independent doctors to get portable health care records up and running is completely asinine — at least it attempts to do something about the problems with the health care industry in this country, rather than ignore it and do nothing.

Or worse, what Romney and Ryan are doing right now in their insistence on hammering home the hard right talking point that “no one dies in the U.S. due to a lack of health insurance,” which is at best misleading, and at worst is wrong to the point of absurdity.

All I’m saying is this: if you like Romney and Ryan, fine.  But use your heads; think about the choices you’re making.  And then ask this one important question:  if you had no money, and you had a bad health condition, would you be more likely to wait because you were afraid to pay the bill?  Or would you instead be virtuous (as the hard right in this country believes we all must be) and go in and rack up those big medical bills, then wonder how on Earth you’re going to pay for it all?

Even if you’re in the second category (and get the charity care deductions, manage to get things written off as did Kristof’s friend Scott), how can you believe that this is the right way for any society to behave, when better alternatives clearly exist?  The city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, has a healthcare exchange that’s worked very well, for example.  Championing that makes sense.  So why don’t the right-wing candidates seem to believe that’s a viable strategy, rather than using this “us-versus-them” stuff that’s got us all in such an uproar that FB friends of long-standing are frothing at the mouth whenever any political comment is raised whatsoever?

That’s why I urge you to use your head for more than just a hat rack, folks; do your homework, and vote accordingly.  Then do whatever you can to remember that compassion is not a lost art, and that we really do have more in common with our fellow man than not, which is why we should work together rather than allow ourselves to be any further divided by petty partisanship than we already are.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

October 26, 2012 at 3:40 am

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