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Health Care Reform: A Human Issue -- Not A Political Issue

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"The anticipation is unbearable...! I hope it lasts." Those were the words spoken by Gene Wilder as the chocolatier Willie Wonka, from the words written by the children's book author and former M-5 agent, Raold Dahl. There are some who feel that way about health care reform. Properly crafted messages made it quite divisive. And just like other divisive issues, politicians can make political hay from it and use it to draw votes, without ever trying to resolve the problem, or attempting to kill any chance of progress.

The abortion issue has been the same juggernaut in the same way for many years. Whether you are Pro-life or Pro-choice (or whatever terms each side uses to spin the issue their way), having the debate around is better for elections than solving the problem and going about the business of trying to solve other 800-pound gorillas in our rooms. Too many pro-life candidates know that if Roe v. Wade was appealed successfully, they would lose a valuable plank in their election arsenal to divide and conquer their states and districts.

And so it appears that the drive to appeal the new Health Care reform bill has begun and it's Déjà vu all over again. I am not an advocate of abortion or an antagonist. It is a terribly emotion-charged issue, especially when you are personally involved, and I can easily see the reasons behind both viewpoints. But I believe in a woman's right to choose because I have seen the devastating effects of unwanted and/or medically-challenged pregnancies (some of the major causes of infant mortality). Situations involving the mother and fetus should dictate what she decides and does, not law.

I see the signs. "Choose life." Two words. Both important. First word, "Choose." The ability to choose one's destiny should be an innate right, given freely in a democratic and free society to its citizens, provided that it does not interfere with the rights and safety of others. Second word, "Life." This is an entity we all have, although I feel that we should always consider that quality of life should often trump quantity, and sometimes we are stuck in the terrible and uncomfortable position of choosing for someone else, without a true knowledge of what that person would truly want, if given the choice. If a person who is strongly pro-life or pro-choice wants to choose life for a medically-challenged infant who may not live long or well, they should have that right to choose. At least this country allows us that choice, to stay with your convictions. Imagine a country where you are only allowed one child. A second full-term pregnancy is not an option. It exists. Look it up. And so I see those who are vehemently pro-life as obstructionist to those who disagree. Have them watch the horror that is the life of a Tay-Sachs baby, as well as the agony of the parents. For some circumstances, not being born may be more merciful and dignified, but at least we have the choice as parents, even though it is a horrible choice to have to make.

I sincerely doubt that few faced with the decision of abortion takes that decision lightly or with a laisse-faire attitude. More often, the decision is an agonizing one. But at least it exists. We had two medically challenged children, although we did not know it until after they were born. Even though the co-pays and co-insurance that it cost to keep them alive and healthier bankrupted us and took our retirement, our home and the girl's college funds, they are both healthy young girls, even though they face medical challenges in their futures, which we hope medical science will relieve. Thus the conundrum. I would have hated to make the decision before they were born and possibly hated myself for making it. None of us have crystal balls to make that decision easier.

I also understand the feelings of those who are against federally-funded abortion, such as the strong-willed Mr. Stupak. I can see that he is a man of his convictions, and that he saw the wheat thru the pile of chaff when he voted for Health Care Reform. If you do not believe in abortion, then you should not have to have your tax dollars go towards something that you feel deeply against. I feel the same way about the war in Iraq, and I know that our taxes will never pay that debt in my or my children's lifetimes.

But let's get back to that second word. "Life." That is what the Health Care Reform bill is really about. Even in its flawed state, it will save lives, and improve millions more. Whether you believed in its premise or not, you will benefit from it.

The United States has some of the worst health outcomes of any large nation, and not for lack of technology, intelligent health care providers or sources of direct services. It requires a system, policy or environmental change to fix it. The ground-breaking Institutes of Medicine's report, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities spoke of our broken health care system and the social determinants of health, some of which are being under or uninsured, due to socio-economic status or employment options. The goal of reducing health disparities is Health Equity, which means a change for good health for ALL. That would be something good for everybody.

Adam Smith even spoke of it in The Wealth of Nations centuries ago. He stated that the wealthy have an obligation to help with the health of the poor, if only out of "Self-Love." If we do not take care of them, the illnesses of the poor will be visited on the rich (paraphrased). He was not too far off. Long before the Germ Theory of Disease, he realized that an epidemic in the poor community, with its cholera and tuberculosis could easily be visited on the wealthy thru contact with the servant class. In the present, it is not just a health impact but a financial one, as well. As long as the under or uninsured continue to have no medical home and end up at the ER as uncompensated care, the more the hospitals have to raise their rates to compensate. The higher medical costs go in a for-profit insurance society, the higher premiums will climb and benefits fall to maintain or grow their profit margins. And, as California Blue Cross/Blue Shield so aptly pointed out, when insurance pools begin to shrink due to high premiums forcing all but the sick (who require higher benefits) to drop out, the higher they feel they have to raise premiums, and the greater need they feel to deny those with pre-existing conditions and drop the sick from their protection.

For those who maintain their insurance (which is easier when you are wealthy) premiums go up, benefits go down, or both. Health Care is more expensive for all. The financial illness of the poor has been visited upon the wealthy and the middle class.

The moral of this story is that the health care system and the health of this country is not and should not be a political issue. It is a human one. Support of health care reform is a matter of karma. If you seek to stop it, it will revisit you in a bad way. Backing a bill that improves the physical and financial health of your district or state shows your constituents that you care about them. A bill that cracks down on insurance fraud and reduces medical costs will shore up Medicare, which took a nation from one that had less than half of their elderly insured to one where 95% were covered, regardless of political party. Those two things alone will reduce the deficit and help pay for the bill.

So here we are. The President signed the bill into law and reconciliation begins. What next? It is a common understanding that this bill, though historic in scope and purpose, is far from perfect. We must look for all the holes to patch.

I like the idea from Alan Grayson (D-Florida) of increasing the ability to enroll in Medicare. As long as there is a crackdown on Medicare fraud, which currently stands in the billions, and we develop a health care system that prevents medical costs from constantly rising, this bill will allow more people to get into a system that is treasured by so many of both political parties and can create more competition for the private insurers, like a public option would have done for the bill.

Let me add to that my own idea for an improvement. We have changed the future of healthcare, but there are so many (including myself) who have been devastated by the broken system that we have lived with for so long. So many people have had their credit ruined by medical bills that were incurred to protect or save the life of themselves or their family. Most of these bills have been written off by the Health Care Provider (who probably raised costs to cover them). Then they were sold to collection agencies for pennies on the dollar, along with all of the VA loans, credit card bills and other collectable debts. For lack of a snazzier name, call it the Medical Bill Remediation Act.

Make it so that a medical debt incurred before reform drove down costs and decreased coverage is not counted against your Credit Score (FICA). Those in medical debt could pay a reasonable amount each month to repay those bills without a long-standing dark scar on their score preventing them from getting the credit they may need to get a mortgage that they could afford. I'll take the first congressman who wishes to sponsor it, regardless of party affiliation.

On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone who has been e-mailing us with best wishes for my wife and family and sent their "Just Because its Monday (JBIM)" stories.

For those unfamiliar with those two items, here is a brief review:

1) Back in September, the St. Pete Times did an article about my wife, Monique Zimmerman-Stein and my family in a series of articles called "Maxxed Out" which talked about people who have been impacted by medical costs regardless of insurance. I have mentioned in the article above about the financial impact that resulted keeping my kids alive and healthy. We found out when my youngest child was born that Monique and my 2 youngest have an autosomal dominant genetic disorder called "Stickler's Syndrome" which interferes with collagen production, so retinas detach and joints break down. Dava, the middle one, has progressive arthritis and already had a retinal detachment when she was 12. Aliyah, the youngest was born with an isolated posterior cleft palate requiring surgery and soft trachea forcing her to have a tracheostomy tube in her neck until she was 6 ½ years old. While I was in Florida getting ready to start a new home in a warmer climate and Monique was caring for the kids, she opted to hold off on her own eye care to make certain that the kids were taken care of, because our insurance made her bills far more expensive. She figured that she would catch up once we were all in Florida and paying just one rental payment and set of utilities.

Unfortunately, two days after she arrived, her retina detached in her last working eye (the first failed when she was 16), leading to a cascade of complications that has left her blind. The Huffington post picked up the article and its corresponding video and it went viral, with millions of hits from hundreds of websites that also picked it up. In early October the Huffington Post once again featured our family's situation to roll out their "Impact" section, and the article allowed readers to donate funds to help us pay our massive bills. They raised $30,000 in less than 2 days, and helped us immensely in reducing our medical debt and covering current bills that continued to build as Monique got worse.

By December the last bit of light that Monique could see vanished, as her cornea completely clouded over and her eye entered what doctors had called an end-stage. No cornea doctor was willing to operate on such a "complex eye" situation until we saw Dr. Victor Perez of Bascom-Palmer (the same Doctor who performed the miraculous tooth-in-eye operation that restored a woman's sight who had been blind for 9 years).

Although the healing process is very slow for this type of eye operation, Monique got a new cornea that so far has allowed her to see shapes of light, and sometimes motion in front of light sources. Unfortunately, they had to remove her lens inside so there is no acuity at this time. They may be able to fit her with a contact lens in about a year that may improve what she has, although we are not sure how much, due to retinal, and optic nerve damage from the detachment and subsequent glaucoma. However, Monique is ecstatic over the light that she can now see, and she is no longer in the world of total darkness that was imposed on her. The contributions of the Huffington Post readers made it happen, and we are forever grateful.

2) Many years ago, Monique developed a personal tradition she called, "Just Because it's Monday (JBIM)" The basis is simple. Monday always seems to be the dreariest day of the work week, when you have to snap out of weekend mode and into the week days. A great way to pick up your week, make yourself feel good and possible make your week more productive is to do some form of charitable act, Just Because Its Monday. It doesn't have to be monetary, it could just be bringing in bagels and cream cheese for the office, stopping to listen to someone who looks down or dropping off old blankets at the homeless shelter. Every act, large or small works in a synergistic way. Once JBIM catches on, amazing things can happen. Give it a try and send us an e-mail about it to GaryandMonique@live.com.