I know there’s been a lot of press about this in recent weeks, but this is a topic that I’ve discussed with my peers and family for years, and this is a topic I personally feel very strongly about, so please forgive me.
I have had continuous healthcare coverage from the day I was born, up until my early 20s. Healthcare was never something I really ever had to think about. As far as I was concerned at that point, I would be able to walk into any hospital or doctor’s office that accepted my insurance card, and if I was sick I would magically be taken care of. I know now that was mainly because of both my youth and naivety at the time about how healthcare worked, but I digress.
Shortly after I turned 17 my father was diagnosed with CML – Chronic myelogenous leukemia. When he was diagnosed, we found out that my father was in the Blast stage, which is the last and most deadly phase of the disease. When he was diagnosed, the only known cure for CML was either a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, or a drug that was harsher on the immune system then chemo…and that had about a 30% survival rate. We also discovered that the same genetic mutation he had in his bone marrow that potentially caused his CML also rendered him unable to find a donor match. He was given an outlook of 6 months. We started tying up loose ends, and saying our goodbyes. Thankfully, however, shortly after he was given this news we discovered that there was a very new experimental drug that just came on the market, called Gleevec. It showed very promising results, but it wasn’t without risks…and certainly not without costs.
Not many people were on the trial, and they didn’t know the long term results. For treatment, my father had to go through monthly bone marrow harvests (which consisted of having multiple holes drilled into his bones, and the marrow extracted) to check the health of the marrow, as well as getting his blood cell count checked regularly. During this whole time, it became very clear that my father was very lucky to have the health insurance he did, and that he worked for the company he did. When his company changed health insurance policies, they allowed my dad to stay on the old plan so he wouldn’t have to change plans and be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, which of course would have forced him to pay out of pocket for the expenses. Keep in mind that the costs of his monthly trips to the hospital for harvests and monitoring alone, let alone the multiple visits to his oncologist were astronomical. Not to mention, he was on an incredibly expensive experimental drug, a drug he now has to take every day for the rest of his life. Gleevec, for all the wonders it did for my father, can cost upwards of $300.00 a single pill, which is $109,500.00 in a single year. Without his insurance, my father could never have footed those bills alone. As time went on it turned out that the drug, quite literally, saved my father’s life. He is now in complete molecular remission, and I’m happy to have my dad still alive and well 8 years later. However, there will always be the constant reminder that if at any time he is unable to take his Gleevec, as in if he lost his insurance coverage or from lack of finances, he could relapse and die.
One thought from that experience always haunts me whenever the topic of healthcare reform is brought up. In one of the most advanced countries in the world, one that has one of the leading healthcare systems, the best hospitals, the best doctors and this particular lifesaving drug (not to mention countless others), had my father not had health insurance, he would have died. With all of this at our fingertips, with the power and tools available and waiting to save his life, he would have been let die. I think that that is one of the largest travesties of our time.
I turn my eyes to Europe, and their model for healthcare. It certainly isn’t without its flaws, but as a nation they looked back over their past history and decided that there was one thing more important than a bottom line: Human life. I have to ask myself, how much is a human life worth? To me, my father is certainly worth a lot more to me then $109,500.00 a year. Can you put a number to how much your life or the life of your loved ones is worth? Apparently our health industry can.
We as a nation have stood up and said that this isn’t right, and its certainly not what we want for ourselves and our families. We’re fed up with insurance companies, companies that we’ve been paying thousands of dollars to our entire lives for the peace of mind they’re supposed to provide, rewarding their employees for finding reasons to deny legitimate claims. We’re haunted daily by stories of people who wake up in a hospital in debt. I’ve heard stories of people who were in a terrible accident, were unable to notify their employer, and so they were terminated. Because they were terminated, they lost their insurance, and now have hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt because they were injured, and now have no job to pay for it. It scares me that medical debt is an inheritable expense, and that people are forced to decide between fighting their illness and potentially losing, which would mean leaving their loved ones behind with insurmountable debt, or choosing to just die instead. That’s the choice we’ve left our people with.
Now, I work with a great guy. He and his wife recently had a baby, but during her pregnancy she was diagnosed with breast cancer. He failed to sign up for insurance and missed the deadline, but our company bent over backwards for him and helped him sign up so he could cover her and the baby, but because she had been diagnosed with cancer before she was covered under his insurance, and even though he had previously called and verified that the procedures and treatments were covered, they deemed it as a pre-existing condition and denied coverage. She’s slowly and painfully dying with a newborn infant she may never see grow up. The last tally on her medical bills was towering in the thousands, and my friend will not only have to mourn the preventable death of his wife and raise his newborn daughter by himself, but he will also have to shoulder the debt he was forced to accrue trying to save his wife long after her death.
I have said time and again that the basic unit of society is family, and like Clinton said, it takes a village. A family’s, and likewise a village’s, responsibility is to take care of each other. As a nation, which is made up of thousands of different families and villages, we need to get together and make sure that we’re doing what families are supposed to do. We need to help each other up and take care of each other, especially when members of our family are too old or too young or too sick to do it themselves. There is no excuse. No one should have to die in this country from disease and illness that we can cure, not when we have the money and technology to do it. People still die from strep throat in this country because they cannot afford insurance premiums or the cost to see a doctor to receive a slip of paper for a medication we hand out to other countries for free. There simply is no excuse.
The other night, I was watching when the House approved the healthcare reform bill. It passed the house with 220 votes. It barely passed. Personally, I find this very disturbing for a representative government, especially when the polls of the American people are drastically different. A recent Gallup poll reported that 76% of Americans strongly support providing guaranteed health care coverage for every American. Yes people, that’s socialized medicine, and quite frankly, it’s about time.