Monday, January 01, 2007

A Personal Story

This piece is in response to a must-read Paul Krugman article in the New York Times, available at Jurassic Pork's site (he who cuts the velvet rope of NYT select - thanks.)
"The U.S. health care system is a scandal and a disgrace. But maybe, just maybe, 2007 will be the year we start the move toward universal coverage.

In 2005, almost 47 million Americans — including more than 8 million children — were uninsured, and many more had inadequate insurance."
Up here in Canada we have a universal, single payer health care system that puts the needs of ordinary citizens above the desires of a few insurance executives to become obscenely wealthy. I have seen the Canadian system criticized harshly in various American forums or rather, I've seen our system misrepresented and the misrepresentation harshly criticized. Conservatives love using the straw man argument, don't they?

Here's my personal story. My best friend was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1997 and told the odds were he wouldn't last a year. I'm happy to say he bucked those odds and is still alive now. He didn't know he had lymphoma until some time after his first medical crisis, when one of his lungs spontaneously collapsed. His wife decided not to wait for an ambulance, just bundled him into the car and broke every traffic law getting him to the emergency ward as fast as possible. Which, the doctors told her, saved his life. After reinflating his lung, the docs decided he should stay in the hospital for further observation. The next day his other lung collapsed. The doctors said that, had he not already been in the hospital, this second crisis would have been fatal. Later still his spleen ruptured. This time the doctors told him he was lucky it happened during the daytime, because the necessary staff that saved him were not available on the night shift. All in all, my friend is one very lucky person.

I don't tell this story to demonstrate the often unsung excellence of our system, though it does just that. The point is this. I was recently talking to his wife about this, and saying how much worse off they would have been had this happened in the USA. The financial burden would have destroyed them, they probably would have lost their home, as rising premiums and uncovered deductibles ate away at their livelihood. But she figures it would have been much worse than that. In America, the wealthiest country in the world, there would have been a 27% chance that she would not have taken her husband to the hospital immediately in the first place, out of concern for the expense. Or so one of the oncologists told her.

If you really need emergency medical treatment, you need it RIGHT NOW, dammit. Not after filling out a bunch of forms, not after confirming that your plan is paid up. What are the odds that an HMO would have quibbled over the cost of the medically necessary period of hospital observation that saved his life at least twice in the first week after his initial crisis? Or that some bean-counter vetoed a necessary aspect of treatment due to a lawyer's interpretation of paragraph 117, subsection 3 in the contract? In nine years, there have been dozens of times when my friend, had he lived in the USA, could have been killed by an accountant. This is unacceptable.

Consider health care reform a priority. Your life could very well depend on it.
Update: A kind reader has consented to tell her brother's story, which is the direct corollary to this one, HERE.

Cross-posted at Ice Station Tango and Friendly Neighbour
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