Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reed Smith and the Need for Quality Affordable Healthcare for All Americans

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last night I posted a "tweet" suggesting that last minute support for Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate, Martha Coakley, could help save the effort to pass health care reform. One of Reed's friends from Arkansas read that tweet and posted a calm and reasoned reply. It follows:

I agree with your assessment of the Haiti situation, however, having just read your "tweet" about health care reform, I must say that I disagree. While I won't argue that our health care system is seriously flawed, I can't stand behind a bill that's being pushed through Congress just so our President can claim that he followed through on his promises for "change." I would be for it, but two years in the future when we really know how it will work and what it will really do. This isn't something we should rush. Not only does it need to be researched further, but it will put us even further in debt. This is all while our economy is in shambles. Despite my opposing opinions on this issue, I appreciate your views and would love to hear your response. Give Reed our best from AR.

I love Reed's friends, and if there is a better group of people walking this earth, I would be very surprised. The writer requested a response, and I wanted to answer in a calm and respectful manner, something that is not always my forte! My first reply to the post was as follows:

Thanks. My response on health care is that the bill making its way through Congress is too weak. I support a strong public option and feel that the President let the Democratic conservatives water down the effort. Everyone living in the world's most powerful country ought to have access to good medical care. It's not them or us - it's all us.

But, that said, something is better than nothing. I think that stalling the bill for a year or two would just kill it. The country has been struggling with this issue since the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt - 100 years ago! It's time - it's actually well past time.

It occurred to me after I posted that response that I neglected to tie it to the one thing that myself and the other writer definitely have in common - our love and concern for Reed Smith.

Reed is twenty-three years old. He is a bright young man, well-educated, with a good job and a wonderful girlfriend. He has a lot of positives going for him - including the cadre of good friends from Arkansas. I don't know how much money he makes, but I suspect that he does very well for someone just a couple of years out of college. I do know that he loves his work, and his boss and co-workers have been very supportive during his hospitalization.

Reed's hospital bill is going to be astronomical. He was flown from the scene of the accident by helicopter to Northwest Hospital in Amarillo. He underwent two emergency surgeries that night, surgeries that resulted in the removal of his spleen and one kidney, surgeries that saved his life. He underwent a couple of lesser surgical procedures in the week that followed. Reed was in Intensive Care for two weeks following his arrival at the hospital, and now he is in a private room - a room that he is likely to occupy for a couple of more weeks. All of that is likely to be followed by rehabilitation care and treatment.

Reed undoubtedly has health insurance through his employer that will help with the bills. There will be help also from the insurer of the automobile in which he suffered his injuries, and, in addition, his father, who was the driver of the vehicle that crashed, may also have had some insurance that will assist with the costs of Reed's hospitalization. But even if there were all of these sources of insurance willing to meet their obligations, know this: it won't be enough. It won't be nearly enough.

I used to think that doctors were the problem. Physicians were greedy and unwilling to do anything to assist the poor - and several years ago there was some truth to that analysis. The advent of HMO's and other large insurance pools, shifted the power to the insurance companies. They were suddenly in the driver's seat, with huge client pools that made it possible for them to dictate terms, and prices, to the hospitals and doctors.

Today much of the villainy and greed that makes health care an impossibility for many Americans rests with the insurance industry. Where does the money go that insurance companies take in through premiums? Is it all (or mostly) plowed back into the system in payment of hospital bills and health care costs? If you think that the insurance companies are focused on helping their customers, think again. Their focus is on providing huge salaries to their executives, and the little guy (the one laying in the hospital) be damned. Last August I posted a list of salaries of top insurance company executives. Here it is again:

H. Edward Hanway, Cigna Corp. $30,160,000 ($82,360 daily)
Ronald A. Williams, Aetna, Inc. $23,045,834 ($63,139)
David B. Snow, Jr., Medco Health $21,760.000 ($59,616)
Dale B. Wolf, Coventry Health Care, $20,860,000 ($57,150)
Michael B. McAllister, Humana, Inc $20,060,000 ($54,959)
Jay M. Gellert, Health Net $16,650,000 ($45,616)
Stephen J. Hemsley, United-Health Group $13,164,529 ($36,067)
Raymond McCaskey, Health Care Service Corp (BC/BS) $10,300,000 ($28,219)
Angela F. Braley, Wellpoint $9,094,771 ($24,917)
Michael F. Neidorff, Centene Corp $8,750,751 ($23,975)

Does any human need to make over eighty thousand dollars a day? Most of us who are employed full-time work hard for our money, and I venture to guess that many reading this blogpost work just as hard, or harder, than H. Edward Hanway or any of the other goobers who live large off of our insurance premiums.

The other villains in the health care story are the drug companies. Canada has a national health care plan, and it works well despite what the morons on Fox News would have you believe. The Canadian government tells the large American drug companies what it will pay for their medicines, and the drug companies, not wanting to lose that large market, comply. The Canadians wind up buying the same drugs from the same drug companies as we do, but they get them cheaper. And when Americans start driving into Canada to buy those cheaper drugs, who raises hell? The good old greedy American drug companies, that's who!

The health care bill currently before Congress has been carefully crafted by Congressional staffers who are highly conversant in the costs and intricacies of health care. The Congressional Budget Office, a fairly conservative source, says that the current bill being considered will not increase the deficit, and, in fact, should lead to deficit reductions over the coming years. I don't like this bill because it has been gutted of the public option, and then Congress was bullied into dropping the plan to lower the age for Medicare, but it does have some merit - and it is a start. After one hundred years of kicking this can down the road, it is well past time to stop playing around and get serious on the subject of providing affordable health care to all Americans.

Reed Smith is likely to walk out of the hospital in Amarillo with a monster of debt sitting squarely on his shoulders. One moment he was riding in the backseat of a car watching a movie with his girlfriend, and then fate interrupted. What happened to Reed was not his fault - and it could happen to any of us.

Why should anyone have to mortgage their future over medical bills? Comprehensive health care is a human right in much of the world, yet in America it remains a privilege - often accessible only to the privileged. Too many Americans sit back and let this disgrace continue because they have insurance through their work, the Veterans Administration (government health care), or Medicare (government health care). They are complacent because the suffering and inhumanity is somebody else's problem, not theirs.

But the health care mess is actually everyone's problem - whether they have health insurance or not. People feel a responsibility for their adult children and grandchildren (I know that I do) who may or may not have good health coverage. And when health care bills force someone into bankruptcy - the most common reason for bankruptcy - the actual costs are eventually born by the rest of society. Quality affordable health care is not the other guy's problem - it is our problem. It needs to be addressed now while Congress has the political will and the votes to take action.

Reed needs for this bill to pass, and so do we all!


molly. said...

Well said!

Carla Brown said...

Yes, yes, yes!!! I would venture a guess however that your view of healthcare is directly related to the number of years you have dealt with the system -- whether something small or something big.

My thoughts and prayers for Reed continue.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying that in bringing Reed into the equation, you've effectively made it impossible for me to respond. If I argue against healthcare, then I'm arguing against Reed...and I'm unwilling to do that. With that in mind, as I stated previously, I'm not against healthcare, but I am against passing something prematurely simply because "they" can at the moment. In reference to your original response, I agree that healthcare is and has been a problem for decades, which is exactly why I don't feel it can be solved in 2-4 months. I doubt a 100 years of healthcare frustration can be solved solely because the almighty Dems have the majority. I'd rather wait and get the bill right with the chance that it will get shot down, than later realize it has flushed our entire system down the shitter. I also share your hatred for insurance companies because, working closely with them day in and day out, I know how devious and under-handed they can be. However, the fact that a insurance company, which would include their management, can make a substantial amount of money is exactly the reason why America is great; we can make whatever someone is willing to pay us. If they weren't willing to pay those greedy bastards that amount of money, someone else would. While I do not like it anymore than you, that's the way it is. This is simply a product of the society we live in. Insurance companies, as you noted, are not the only problem. One problem you failed to mention is that you and I pay healthcare costs for millions of illegal immigrants. Having worked at a local hospital, this is a more serious problem than many people know. And another thing to remember is that although it has its problems, we have the best healthcare system in the world. It's needs revising, but not scrapping. I do fundamentally disagree that healthcare is right of all people. In emergency circumstances, yes. However, for all the people like Reed who need and deserve a better healthcare system, there are just as many people who don't work, don't pay taxes, and use the rest of us who actually do those things. To give handouts to those unwilling to work for that which they have is in every facet of the word, socialism. As history will tell you, socialism hasn't put too many societies at the top of the economic pyramid. My short response has turned into quite the ramble (no pun intended). Thank you for your response and, although I may not always agree, it is a pleasure reading something as well-written and thoughtful as your blog. Again, pass our best on to Reed and the rest of the family.