David B.




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July 23, 2009

Four Real People . . . and the Obscenity of American Health Care


She is in her late 20s when she is struck by a degenerative kidney disease which inevitably causes a years-long decline in her health, followed by the need for a kidney transplant. A merciful employer adds her to management’s health care plan – a plan normally unavailable to her as a waitress – and she receives her transplant.


Subsequent to her relocation and taking on a new job, she is stricken by a rare form of cancer affecting only transplant recipients, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars of needed care. She receives the necessary treatment, but is subsequently terminated from her job, resulting in the loss of her insurance – leaving her with no coverage in the event of a recurrence.


He is 80 years old. As a public sector retiree, he has what has been called the best insurance plan available in his state. Nonetheless, following a bout with cancer, brain surgery, and an array of lesser problems, his plan no longer covers the continuing care he requires. Disabled to the point that simple tasks such as showering, dressing and eating require assistance, he is forced to pay hundreds of dollars per day from his own pocket, depleting a lifetime of savings and threatening his future physical and financial security.


She is in her mid-40s. A series of infections in conjunction with environmental and genetic factors have done extensive damage to her liver, with troubling and noticeable effects. She is in need of aggressive, immediate treatment in order to arrest her disease’s progress and limit damage. Nonetheless, she puts off going to the doctor, aware that her employer has a history of finding reasons to terminate individuals whose health insurance claims appreciate beyond what the employer deems to be an acceptable level.


She is in her early 40s, plagued by a succession of chronic diseases. She longs to move on from the dead-end job she hates, but she knows that she’d be lost without her employer-provided health care coverage and that she’d likely be denied coverage – or employment – elsewhere. She lives in perpetual fear of downsizing as her company goes through yet another round of layoffs.


These are the sort of health care horror stories reform advocates routinely employ in an effort to drum up support for a health care system overhaul. What makes these particular stories unique is that they are not just an assortment of disparate anecdotes. They are four specific individuals who all happen to be close friends of this article’s author, each dealing with their own private health care hell at the same time, doing the best they can to survive in spite of a system that doesn’t give a damn about them once the checks cease to clear.


All are hard-working, middle-class Americans with jobs, homes and families who have dedicated their energy and their lives to pursuing the same American dreams as anyone else. In each case, somewhere along the way, fate dealt them a bad hand, and the profit-centric corporate health care system was there to kick them when they were down.


Unique in this context does not equate to uncommon: Unfortunately, the stories – from town to town, street to street, family to family – are sickeningly the same. There are few Americans alive who do not know at least one individual or family facing circumstances such as these. Their numbers rise seemingly in direct proportion to the profits of the hospital conglomerates and insurance empires.


Jim DeMint, Michael Steele, the Republican Party, the we-made-$13-billion-in-profits-last-year health insurance industry and a cabal of self-serving and corrupt “blue dog” Democrats will be the first to tell you that the system is functioning just fine as it stands, and that enormous personal expense, a state of constant anxiety, the denial of necessary treatment and the effective enslavement of a sick individual to a given employer are acceptable byproducts of its operation. As America stands at the point where the interests of people and the allure of profit cross, the well-being of its citizens and its moral health are entirely dependent upon the direction it chooses. If it opts for profit, it deserves to rot in hell.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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