THE BLOG
10/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Univeral Health Care and the New Fiscal Meltdown -- Run to the Border for Health Care

Wall Street isn't the only one with a second chance. I got my own bailout recently when my blood work came back. I am very, very elated that my T cell count is 852, which for the first time since I started counting these things is now in the "normal" range. T cells for a healthy person range from 800 to 1500. It's official. I can put today in the win category.

With this current "economic downturn" comes another potential crisis - the uncertain health status of the population. On Monday, September 22, 2008, The Wall Street Journal described how Americans are cutting back on basic healthcare needs. Many Americans now are expanding time between treatments, taking fewer drugs, and scheduling fewer doctors' visits thanks to their lack of funds. To make it more poignant, these individuals actually have insurance. On Friday, Reuters.com explains that healthcare spending typically outpaces economic growth, but various experts expect that to come to a screeching halt. Last week, Obama stated that with the current financial crisis, it is going to be next to impossible to achieve his healthcare goals. Oddly enough, in times such as these, those without insurance are often better off - they get to take advantage of the current system and have the taxpayers pay for their healthcare problems.

I will not pretend that I do not cut corners with my medical care. One of my drugs, Lyrica, comes with a $92 a month co-payment, and for a while now that has just been a bit too much. So to make it work, I only take one third to one half of the suggested dosage. The upside to this is it is only for one of my side effects - it is not one of my essential drugs - and I can do this without great harm to my health.

However, skipping doctor's appointments is something that I make a rule not to do. Gentlemen discussed in the Journal that he was going to forego his own healthcare plan in order to have money to pay for his 3 and 4 year old sons annual checkups. Has it come to that, in this, the supposed richest nation to ever exist on the planet? These are the decision we have come to make?

One of the many choices Americans get to make is where their healthcare takes place - and I am not talking about various places within their local areas. I am talking about where on this planet they feel they can get the highest quality care for the least amount of money. Recently I became one of those Americans going abroad for their healthcare needs.

Many times these are doctors that trained in the US and would have practiced in the US if they knew it was financially feasible. Given the malpractice rates, commercial real estate needs and other fiscal constraints, it makes great sense for these doctors to practice in their native lands.

For several years I have heard of this plastic surgeon in - yes of all places - Tijuana. Dr. Luis Casavantes practices in Tijuana purely for the financial reasons and because he can take advantage of cutting edge techniques without having to go through the FDA approval process. One of the many side effects of my HIV drugs is a loss of fat is various parts of my body that could use it. To be honest, if I could choose where the fat loss would occur, I would not even think twice, but I get no say in these matters. The largest problem area is my butt. The drugs have taken the fat out of my buttocks and many times I feel like I am sitting on my lower back. Riding on planes for long periods of time is very difficult because I am forced to stay sitting for most of the time. If I can get up and move around it is better but not good. Dr. Casavantes has devised a method to re-create my buttocks through the injection of various polymers that are not harmful to my body at all. He has done this for many, many patients, some of which are good friends of mine, so I can attest to his work.

So I got I my car and drove to the border for my first time. Yup, I have lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and have never crossed the border into Mexico. I parked my car in a private lot near the crossing and just simply walked over without a question. But in my mind I was very conscious of what I was doing. It was racing with various thoughts - was I doing this out of vanity? Was I really doing this for health reasons? And why was I going to Tijuana for something that involved my health - after all I have heard about Tijuana? It suddenly was not making sense.

However, I calmed down and reminded myself that it was only a consult and not a procedure. I was there to find out more about this program and learn. I was not there to actually have anything done to me.

I walked over the border, through the turnstiles, and took one of the nearby cabs, as my friend had suggested, and simply gave the address to the driver. In five minutes I was at the office. The office had a distantly European feel to it. The design and construction materials reminded me of places I have been to in Italy. There was granite and marble everywhere. For distraction in the waiting room, a large flat screen television played some version of Cirque du Soleil. Wade, Dr. Casavantes' nurse, came out and took me into an office to start discussing my potential procedures. I was instantly calmed down. Any fears I had immediately dissipated.

I had priced similar procedures in the States - and they are not of the same quality of Dr. Casavantes. Currently the similar situations offered in the States do not stay and soon need to be redone, which, of course, brings up the cost further. Dr. Casavantes quoted me a price that was one third of what I was hearing in the States - and his work does not need to be redone. I felt so at ease and confident in Dr. Casavantes that if I had the money right now I would have done it instantly. However, for now, it will have to wait. It is good to know that this option is within reach so when I am ready, its there.

I guess you can call this just part of globalization, but I honestly do not think affordable, quality healthcare within our own neighborhoods in our very own country is too much to ask for. I harken back to the Constitution once again, the "general welfare" statement made right in the Preamble, and I honestly think our founding fathers would have wanted us to have Universal healthcare.

Wall Street's meltdown was brewing for many, many months before we even began to put it on the table. As of this writing, we are still dealing with blame tossing and deciding who is going to take the credit if the bailout doesn't work? And why have we not discussed more fully what this means to the everyday American? The topic I continue to hear is executive compensation. That is just one small part of the picture.

John McCain said just two weeks ago that the fundamentals of the American economy are strong. Sarah Palin went on to explain that he was referring to the American worker, that our workforce is the best in the world and that will help save our economic situation. If our workforce ignores its healthcare, how can it stay strong? If we don't have a healthcare system that actually cares for us, how can we possibly even begin to compete with countries that offer medical care for their populations?

Former President Clinton was on Letterman the other evening and he stated the numbers. We, as Americans, spend 16% of our Gross Domestic Product on healthcare, and do not offer coverage to 16% of the population. Other Western nations spend 11% of their GDP on healthcare, and have 100% of their population covered. They do it through cost controls, buying power, and other practices that rein in the finances related to medical care.

Back to my own personal bailout -- I have many reasons to be grateful, one of which is I have figured out how to work the system to my advantage, another is the support of my family who had to reach beyond their comfort zone and deal with a world they were completely unfamiliar with, and my wonderful friends who put up with my rants when it seems like the walls are closing in on me and it feels as if the entire world is against me. I also think about David, my deceased boyfriend, and just know he would tell me to continue to fight and not get discouraged and always, always remind me to think about how far I have come with this disease. But most of all I remember those four nephews of mine that I referred to in my first entry, and the day-to-day HIV related bullshit I go through, suddenly becomes at the same time, very trivial and very very worthwhile.