Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Wish You Good Health (and Good Healthcare)

I probably won't be able to blog for much of next week, since I'm going into the hospital for knee surgery-- it's my third surgery in three years, and believe me, I'm really tired of spending time in hospitals (rehab isn't a ton of fun either). But I remain eternally grateful that I have health insurance, and glad that I live near good doctors and good hospitals.  Several of my friends aren't so fortunate.  They didn't have health insurance from their jobs, and now they are unable to work.

No, it's not that they are unwilling to find another job, and it's not that they are lazy-- in fact, both worked hard all their lives. But their jobs did not provide any benefits (one worked as a home health aide, one worked in a factory); and when they were left with permanent disabilities, they both ended up on fixed incomes-- which are quite low.  After the Affordable Care Act was signed into law (and please note-- neither of them is a fan of President Obama), they were encouraged when they learned about the Medicaid Expansion, which would make them both eligible for health care they could not afford up to that point.

But alas, determined to make a point about their dislike of the president and their opposition to "Obamacare," the Republican governors and legislatures of their states refused to accept the Medicaid Expansion, even though doing so would have been such a blessing to a large number of poor people, who would have been covered at a relatively minimal cost.  (In fairness, a few Republican governors DID accept the Medicaid Expansion, showing a willingness to help people who desperately needed it; but most Red State governors did not.)

This should not be political.  Like it or hate it, studies show the Affordable Care Act has been a major benefit for millions of Americans; some have even credited it with saving their lives-- one Wisconsin Republican named Brent Brown, who acknowledged he never voted for President Obama and had even made hateful remarks about him, completely changed his mind once he got sick.  Unable to get health insurance before the ACA, due to a pre-existing condition, he was now able to gain access to good healthcare, and have his serious illness treated.  He wrote to the president and thanked him.

Okay fine, "Obamacare" isn't perfect, and yes, it has some flaws.  Since it relies on working with the private, for-profit insurance industry, there have been been challenges in achieving lower costs; procedures and medications in the US remain outrageously high, especially when compared to other countries.  Bernie Sanders and others have suggested a Medicare For All plan, but in our current political environment, there's little chance such a plan will be given a fair hearing any time soon.  Meanwhile, the subject of why healthcare costs in the US are so high (and no, it's not always because of "waste, fraud, and abuse") is worth a serious conversation, one that should go beyond partisan rhetoric and talking points.

The fact remains that for all its flaws, the ACA has given many Americans coverage for the first time, and that's a step in the right direction.  And yet, my Republican friends continue to express their disdain for it,  and every Republican candidate for president has pledged to repeal it-- even though there is NO Republican plan to replace it, and lord knows, the GOP has had plenty of time to come up with one.  I truly wish they would.  Meanwhile, some of the problems with our current healthcare system could be remedied if only congress would act-- like, why can't Medicare negotiate for lower prices on prescription drugs? It was congress that forbade this back in 2003, as a concession to the pharmaceutical industry (once again, we see the power lobbyists have; those who contribute to campaigns get the ear of the candidates in a way that ordinary citizens do not).

And so, here we are:  I will get to go to a good hospital, see well-respected doctors, and get the treatment that will (I hope) relieve some of the pain I've been dealing with over the past few months.  But my two friends, by virtue of where they live, are not able to get the care they need, and there is no relief for either of them in sight.  That geography should determine the quality of one's health care, or how much (or how little) access one has to much-needed medicines seems unfair to me.  I want to hear answers from the candidates about how they will solve our healthcare problems, but thus far, I don't see both sides sitting down to come up with some solutions.  And there continues to be a system  of haves and have-nots while politicians in congress (and make no mistake-- both sides helped to create this mess) act as if there's nothing they can do.  But there is. And it's sad that too many of them lack the political will to even make the effort.    

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