28 February 2007

Choosing ideology over our children

Next time someone suggests that single-payer healthcare, like they have in Canada, isn't as good as U.S. healthcare, consider the Wilkes family.

Nathan Wilkes' son Thomas, now 3, was born with severe hemophilia. If the Wilkes lived in Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, or any other civilized and wealthy country, they would still have all the stress of caring for a seriously ill child.

Unfortunately the Wilkes live in the United States, a nation that cares so little about its citizens that it allows the Wilkes to be tortured by the ongoing immanent loss of health coverage for Thomas.

Nathan Wilkes spoke outside the Colorado Capitol Building on Monday's Healthcare Day of Action.

He told the crowd that he and his wife learned soon after Thomas' birth that their baby had severe hemophilia. Thomas' treatment cost almost half a million dollars before his first birthday. "When my employer went to renew our insurance at the end of 2004, they found out that premiums were going to go up 36% due to prior claims." Other insurance companies declined to bid for the 150-employee company's business.

Thomas' illness affected every employee at the company, which was forced to switch from a comprehensive PPO plan to a plan with high deductibles. For everyone.

The next year, Thomas' healthcare cost $750,000. Again UnitedHealth boosted premiums. In order to keep the increase down to only 19 percent, employees were were forced to sacrifice even more benefits. Their annual out-of-pocket maximum doubled to $8,000 and copays went up. "And most disturbing of all for my family, we were forced to accept a $1 million lifetime cap," Wilkes said.

Another 12 months, another $750,000 for Thomas' care, and more double-digit rate hikes from UnitedHealth. The Wilkes' out-of-pocket costs are now at about $20,000 a year and Wilkes himself is now virtually unemployable because of his family's healthcare history.

Worst of all, Thomas is nearing the million dollar cap.

What then? The family will probably turn to CoverColorado, which also has a million dollar cap and also has extremely high costs for the family.

"I’m not asking you to pity Thomas or my family," Wilkes said. "We’ve managed to make it this far and we’ll find some way to make it through this crisis. Instead, I need you to consider why we are even in this situation in the first place. I need you to think about what would happen to you and your family if you lost your job, your insurance, or both. What would happen if someone in your family became critically ill and you couldn’t afford to treat them? Or what if you were covered but the cost of this care meant that you couldn’t afford insurance next year?"

How can Americans be duped into thinking that this is acceptable? How can Jews, Christians or Muslims claim to be a people of God and let this happen? The question isn't what's wrong with Kansas. It's rather what the hell is wrong with America?

I can find no mention of similar caps on caring for a child with hemophilia, by the way, in Great Britain or Canada. And you can bet they'd be on the internet, because people are far quicker to complain about public systems than private.

Later in the day, Wilkes spoke to the Health and Human Services Committee of the Colorado House It was early afternoon, and a pale Thomas, looking small and fragile, was curled up asleep in a chair next to his mother and sisters.

Wilkes asked the representatives why, when everyone understood that single-payer is the solution to our healthcare crisis, why were we unable to just admit that and get on with it? Rep. Jim Kerr, whose district, 28, is a conservative southwest suburb of Denver, said that single-payer, or "socialized" medicine, wouldn't work. He first pointed to Canada as proof — because so many Canadians come here for care. The crowd got ugly at that point, and needed to be reined in. Rep. Kerr then cited Norway as proof we couldn't afford universal healthcare. The Norwegians use their oil money from North Sea fields to fund their healthcare. What would we use? Poor us! Fat, wealthy Norway!

The fact that the Norwegian government pays less per person than does the U.S. government has so far eluded Rep. Kerr. Paying less per person, the Norwegians cover everyone. Paying more per person, we leave up to a third of our population out in the cold. And I'm counting people like the Wilkes as being out in the cold, even with their "gold-plated" insurance. Wouldn't you?

The U.S. government already pays about two-thirds of the healthcare bill in this country. It already covers most of the sickest people. We could so easily cover everyone that thinking through why we don't is literally sickening.

Little Thomas is not the norm. Most 3-year-olds cost very little in terms of healthcare. So little, in fact, that decent societies don't worry too much about paying for the Thomases. There just aren't enough of them to break the bank — unless, of course, you put profit and ideology before a child's life.

1 comment:

SadButTrue said...

If a Canadian politician ever tried to campaign on the idea of having a health care system similar to that in the U.S., his career would be over right there on the spot. The overemphasis on preserving free-market capitalism at all costs has seriously eroded democracy.