Who would have ever guessed that anyone would say they felt lucky to have AIDS? As many Americans leave the land of financial over-hype and find themselves back on the ground trying to deal with the their new fiscal reality, it makes me realize that I got my proverbial shot in the arm years ago with my AIDS diagnosis. Once you enter that room, you immediately know that life as you once knew it will never be the same again. And I can tell you that is not necessarily a bad thing.
I learned years ago how to juggle my finances in order to make sure I always had enough money to pay for my health insurance. In 1999, when I was 36, I purchased an individual health insurance policy through Blue Shield of California. The policy offered a $1,000 deductible, a rather reasonable co-payment maximum and high life time maximum. It also included a $50,000 life insurance policy. For this, I paid just under $90 per month. Now, ten years later, and at age 46, I pay nearly $500 per month. Blue Shield also doubled the deductible along the way, offering to allow me to go back to my original one, but that would mean reapplying for insurance- and you could guess the answer I was going to get.
Please let me explain - I am not here to knock Blue Shield of California. They have been, in spite of the price increases, rather wonderful to me. When I arrived home from the hospital, after a twelve-day stay that cost just under $100,000 to them, I received a call from Blue Shield. I was scared to return it, thinking that they were calling to say that my policy was canceled. Instead, the nurse was calling to see if I was okay and if I needed home health care assistance. I said, no, but thanked her for the offer. I instantly told my friends about this - thinking that it was great that they had my best interest at heart. And I have to say, they usually do.
There was another time Blue Shield came through for me. After my hospital stay, I thought I had gotten through the worst part , but could not have been more wrong. Three weeks after leaving the hospital, I was diagnosed with KS - Kaposi's Sarcoma - an AIDS related cancer. My oncologist suggested three possible treatment protocols - radiation, chemo, and this very, very new drug - Panretin Gel. She said that the Gel was her preferred choice, but that it was so new most insurance companies did not cover it. I contacted Blue Shield - not only did they cover it, but the co-payment was only $25. The Gel's full price was $2800 per tube. It was worth every single penny, for what was left of the cancer literally melted away nightly.
I read these stories in the media of people not being able to afford their COBRA payments and their mortgages. The upside to having AIDS was that I was never able to afford that sub prime mortgage, I didn't have a home to get a line of credit on, didn't take multiple vacations a year which maxed out my credit cards, for I was too busy trying to stay alive and figure out how to pay for my medical bills. I learned this entire set of skills that most Americans now have to acquire very quickly. I knew years ago that keeping up with the Joneses was not just no longer on the table, but not good for my health. I also learned that in order to stay alive and be healthy, I had some choices to make, and that included not going on vacations, and not buying that condo that seemed like such a good idea at the time, and always making sure that I had money for my health insurance and other related medical expenses.
I learned what mattered most to me what how I felt about myself and what I did, and that the part of my life that meant the most to me was and remains my family and friends. I learned that having someone say your name during a thank you speech at an televised awards ceremony is nothing compared to hearing your nephew say your name for the first time. I learned that being considered the "fun" adult by my nephews is way better than a week on a beach in Hawaii at a five star resort. I learned that taking my nephews to museums in New York beats going out to the clubs with friends any day of the week. I learned that just being able to get out of bed on my own means it is going to be a good day, no matter what else happens.
So I understand when working America finally has to deal with these choices. I get when people are concerned that they are not going to be able to afford their home and their health care at the same time. What I don't get it why we cover seniors and children but not the people that take care of them? How are we supposed to make sure that our oldest and our youngest get the best care possible, when the people who will have to take them to these medical appointments do not get even halfway decent coverage - if any at all.
What I also don't get is why are we increasing the taxes on cigarettes to pay for this new children's health program? The Federal taxes on cigarettes went up to $1.00 per pack to pay for the SCHIP. Is that an homage to President Obama's tobacco habit? Are people being encouraged to smoke in order to pay for their children's health care? In the famous words of Andy Rooney, "I just don't get it."
What I really don't get is that in a blink of an eye we can save a bank but we cannot save the human capital that is deep inside the bank. We do not even have on the table a conversation about the workers at the bank --- we only keep discussing toxic assets and their devastation upon America. What about the toxic asset that a HMO is and its effects on America? What about the effect we have on human potential when Americas are considered nothing more than loss centers for their health insurance, and are constantly denied access to treatments that could easily save them and put them back in the workplace, contributing to our society once again.
Unfortunately, I believe that after this Stimulus package goes through, there will be little left for health care reform. As Maslow clearly stated, man's basic needs are food, shelter, and clothing. Having good health was not on the bottom of his pyramid. Apparently having a working digestive system in order to take full advantage of the food was not going through his mind.
I also think that Washington politics will continue as usual with health care reform turning into an Agatha Christie novel - Ten Little Health Care Plans. Right now, Senator Baucus is the one seemingly left standing, but that could easily change. Senator Clinton was taken out of his way with her appointment as Secretary of State. Senator Kennedy is also about to be taken off the game due to his own health issues. Senator Daschle was conveniently removed for being seduced by perks. Senator Daschle got caught up in this before and lost his Senate seat due to some rather strong commercials that showed him driving around Georgetown in his Jaguar, leaving the values of South Dakota behind. Once again, it is a car that tripped up the Senator.
Last year, Senator Baucus released a plan entitled "Health Care Reform 2009", outlining his ideas for policy change. It is nothing new - and actually very similar to the previous plans outlined by other Democrats, so getting it through Congress should be an easy thing. There is just that one detail left - paying for it. However, given what we know about Senators, Baucus is going to fight hard to make sure his name is leading the way on the health care reform act, whatever year it may actually happen.
America, let me welcome you to what those of us with chronic diseases have known all along. Each day is a precious gift. Tell the people you love that you love them every chance you get. And health care is America is an oxymoron.