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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Cindy A. Rose |


As Long as We Remember...

July 12, 2007

Time to Make A Change

Patricia A. Kelly

Michael Moore has done it again. He has succeeded in producing a political statement for public viewing as a movie in mainstream theaters. He succeeds where many films of significant artistic merit fail. He's playing in Frederick.

I saw "Sicko," his latest film, on Saturday, approaching it with great trepidation, as he had taken so many "cheap shots" in Fahrenheit 911. It seemed important to get his view because of my career in health care, but I wasn't looking forward to it.

I already knew that our health care system is broken. We have little to offer our uninsured, many of whom use the hospital emergency departments as their primary resource, clogging the system for true emergencies, and leaving in their wake millions of dollars in unpaid bills. Worse yet, the care they receive fails to meet their needs.

We see people regularly who are branded as "noncompliant," who are addicted to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and are clinging to the bottom rung of our social ladder by their teeth (if they have any) and toenails. We apply a "bandage" to their immediate problem, give them some more drugs, if they haven't received any recently, and send them on their way. We stand firm and righteous as we watch them limp back to the gutter in their plastic flip flops only to return within the week.

Later, when they become catastrophically ill, we enroll them in Medicaid and keep them miserably alive at great government expense. Some of them, if provided regular, nurturing, proactive care and teaching, could lead healthy lives at much lower cost.

Doctors also fill the emergency rooms with their patients. They want to go home early on Friday; they don't have time to really know their patients well; they want to be protected from attorneys, so they send them in for batteries of tests, often expensive, and sometimes unnecessary.

The emergency docs are forced to do the tests, as they don't know the patients, can't be sure that they will follow up appropriately for further symptoms, and want to protect themselves as well.

The patients end up frightened and confused, and often have to fight their insurance companies - if they have a policy - to get their bills paid.

Michael Moore says we should have universal, tax-funded health care. We've all heard that's bad, that it will lead to socialized medicine (i.e. a "commie' state), increased taxes, lack of choice of doctor, delays in treatment, and mediocre care.

We're already getting that. We have delays in care, inadequate treatment of our most needy clients, some with good insurance; limited choice of doctors due to insurance company restrictions; and discrimination against the mentally ill in terms of drug and treatment coverage, etc. How much worse could it be?

We're paying hundreds of dollars a month for our coverage, enough to cover the cost of an annual, simple operation, and having to fight for coverage for many treatments and tests.

I recently spoke to a friend who had to pay $1,500 for a colonoscopy in spite of paying $400 per month for health insurance with Aetna. This test is generally recommended every five years for people over fifty.

What's up with the lack of insurance coverage? Would Aetna be willing to pay for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation if she developed widespread colon cancer because she didn't have the test? Because of the cost, the same woman is not getting regular mammograms in spite of her sister's history of breast cancer.

Aetna is certainly putting itself at risk of great future expense with this client. And if Aetna suffers, all of its clients suffer, with higher fees and lesser coverage, because Aetna wants to make a profit.

I have personally purchased prescription medicine in other countries for less than the co-pay here. Our pharmaceutical industry lobbies incessantly against that, saying it's not safe. It's not safe to forego filling your prescriptions because you can't afford them, either.

According to Wikipedia, the average life expectancy in the world is 65.82 years. Ours is 78 years, number 45 in a list of 221 countries worldwide. In infant mortality, we rank number 42 out of 221.

According to Mr. Moore, we are the only highly developed country in the world without universal health coverage. Countries with it have better statistics than we do on both life expectancy and infant mortality.

I'm not crazy about Mr. Moore, but I think he has a point. We, of all people, living in the richest country in the world, should have access to the best health care for all of us. Universal coverage is overdue.

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