Sunday, July 12, 2009

Health care reform can be as simple as a light switch

Health care reform doesn't have to be complicated. There are stories about taxes, choices and government-run health care plans. 

I try to keep up with all the issues raised around the debate. It's easy to get lost in the multiple viewpoints. President Obama issued a July 2 statement on the Senate's Health Care Reform Bill called the HELP Committee.

"The HELP Committee legislation reflects many of the principles I’ve laid out, such as reforms that will prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and the concept of  insurance exchanges where individuals can find affordable coverage if they lose their jobs, move or get sick," Obama said. 

"Such a marketplace would allow families and some small businesses the benefit of one-stop-shopping for their health care coverage and enable them to compare price and quality and pick the plan that best suits their needs."

Since the president's statement, there has been more wrangling over how to best provide health care. There are polls saying people support the plan. Other polls suggest people remain concerned about the cost. 

Politicians are all over the map on the issue. There are options to tax health insurance plans and options to provide Americans with cash. 

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I don't understand it all. 

When my late husband Jimmy had his catastrophic stroke at age 34, we had health insurance. We did not have long term care insurance. So, at the end of the day, we were at the mercy of the system. We pieced together care through veterans benefits (which were begrudgingly provided) and eventually Medicaid. 

Jimmy was mute and completely paralyzed. He communicated with eye blinks. Jimmy was a Republican through and through. We didn't always see eye-to-eye on political matters. As a journalist, my votes were cast for individual candidates — not parties. 

When he fussed about some liberal program, I reminded him that he benefited from social programs to provide care for veterans and the disabled and elderly. "Look at the care," he spelled out. He never wavered on this point. He didn't like the medical care he received.

Jimmy and I heard a lot about money during those early years following his stroke. We learned  about overpriced cotton swabs and band aids. He required 24/7 care, medications and 100 percent assistance, so we understood he was expensive. However, this reality never dulled the sting of hearing an admissions clerk reject him from a nursing home close to family or a VA counselor say, "No one wants him. He's too expensive."

While searching through notes recently, I came across something Jimmy spelled about the health care system. I had just visited the Georgia governor to tell him about Jimmy and about nursing homes. 

Jimmy wrote this on February 23, 2003:
"Health care and the nursing home system is already in ICU. Any more cuts will probably cause it to flat line. I don't think that most people really understand the problems people face unless you are one of the people that need the system."

He said he didn't worry about the system until he was living in it. He had complaints over big issues and ones that seemed minor to others, but were a big deal to him.

"Like my overhead light. Most people don't think anything about turning on a light. I think that I have made it clear that the light bothers my eyes. The way my bed sits it seems as if I am staring directly into the sun. I try to close my eyes, but that doesn't work. And since I can move my head a little, I try to turn away but this doesn't work either. So, I'm stuck."

Health care reform seems to be in a similar situation. Stuck. 

At the core of this reform, I hope they really look at the patients — the people. During a town hall meeting recently, a woman spoke to the president about her impossible situation. She hit a brick wall at every turn. Her story seemed unnecessarily complicated. I know rules and regulations are in place, but sometimes they create unnecessary roadblocks. 

Health care reform cannot solely be about the dollars and cents. It has to make sense, too. Politicians and health care providers need to help patients by  considering options that help patients. It might be something as simple as turning off the lights when needed.


  1. It does seem as though the bigger the number of people involved, especially politicians, the bigger the maze that's created. And it seems that maze is deliberate.

    Straight From Hel

  2. No need to answer if you don't want to, but did you have to get divorced in order to get Medicaid? The way the sytem is set up, if you're married, don't you have to go through ALL your assets before Medicaid covers anything?

    I'm all for universal health care. 100%. I have friends in Canada and relatives in England who have it. Not a "perfect" system, but WAY better than what the US has.

  3. Fortunately, we didn't have to get a Medicaid divorce. I was quite shocked when people mentioned this days following the stroke. For some, it's the only option. That's a completely separate post!

    Here's a quick item on assets, but you need to speak to your Medicaid counselor about your specific state. I understand each state is different. In general, you are allowed to keep some assets.

    Also, check about community spouse benefits — where you are allowed to collect some of your spouse's resources to support your household outside of the nursing home.

    I don't think any system will be perfect, but we do need something better than what we have now.


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