Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Health Care Debate--part 1

We're all grown-ups here, right? So how about a little conversation about the health care debate? No town hall meetings, no yelling, no lying, and no guns. Sound good?

First of all, let's be honest: our stories inform our opinions. So what if instead of spouting off all our opinions, we told our stories instead? At least at first . . . since the whole health care thing is so huge and so complex that none of us really understands it, we might as well start with "Once upon a time . . . "

So here are a few of my stories: One, I am really, really lucky to have health insurance at all. Our insurance company tried to drop me when I developed a seizure disorder back in 1995 and for years we ended up paying more for health insurance than we paid for our mortgage. Now that we are able to get group coverage even though we are technically self-employed, it's a little less expensive and a little less scary but it also limits our options. For example, if we were to leave Baptist life, would I still be able to get coverage? No idea.

Here's another story: I was a chaplain in a geriatric care facility for three years. It was my first job out of seminary, the first "church" I ever served. Mrs. K was in her nineties and lay in a bed curled into a fetal position all three years I worked there. I never saw her open her eyes, never heard her make a noise, never had any indication that she had any cognitive functioning at all. One day, I saw her being wheeled out of the home on a gurney, toward a waiting ambulance. Since her face was uncovered, I assumed she hadn't died and asked a nurse what was happening. With undisguised disgust, she told me that Mrs. K's son had authorized a hysterectomy for her, treating recently diagnosed uterine cancer. According to her, he said he "wanted to keep her alive at all costs." He did.

Later, I worked in a large teaching hospital. When someone I knew came to that hospital to have a baby by Caesarean section, I assumed I could visit the next day. When I showed up in the maternity floor the next morning, I discovered that she had already been discharged, along with the baby. I asked a nurse, "How could she already be gone?" The nurse asked, "Did she have insurance?" "No," I answered. "I think she was on Medicaid." "That's why, then. They don't keep them more than 24 hours."

One more: when C started having chest pains a few years ago, he made an appointment immediately with his doctor. She looked at his family history and sent him to a cardiologist. The cardiologist decided to do a stress test "just to be sure." When he flunked the stress test, a cardiogram was scheduled. When the cardiogram showed two 95% blockages and one 100% (the artery had created its own bypass), two specialists immediately did a heart cath, unquestionably saving his life. If we had not had health insurance . . . I don't even want to think about it.

So those are my stories. I have more and so do you. Let's be honest: our stories form and inform our opinions. If we had different stories, we would have different opinions. This is why we need to hear from everyone--our wisdom lies collectively in the sum total of our stories, not in the rightness of our opinions. At least that's my opinion.

1 comment:

MJO said...

In the context of discussing my cardiogram results, my doctor yesterday told me a couple of stories of her patients and how certain types of companies look for reasons to "deny" in order to keep profits up.

1. A healthy professional runner with low heart rate of 50 bpm (that's natural for professional runners) was denied coverage because her heart rate was considered evidence of a medical illness.

2. A healthy adult male who had a very hard time with the loss of his mother took an anti-anxiety medication for 3 months, and with counseling, he was off of it. For the next 5 years, he had a diagnosis of "mental illness" and could not get coverage.

In any event, I have to get a stress test performed, not because I need it (according to my doctor), but because I have to "document my medical file" -- so that insurers will not have a pretext to unreasonably deny coverage in the future.

To me, the fact that opponents of reform are MAKING UP stories about death panels, etc. is rather telling. And it's discouraging that so many people are so misinformed.

Anyway, thanks for having a forum to tell REAL stories, T.