Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Right Thing to Do

Forgive me for getting political. Here at the Stiletto Gang, we try hard to write entertaining and informative posts about a variety of topics. For instance, this week, my choice for a topic was between “Spanx” and “health care.” As you’ll see, I’ve chosen the latter and I apologize, in advance, for ticking anyone off, something I apparently have gotten very good at lately.

It seems that you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing the words “health care” or “health care reform.” Never has a topic, in my lifetime anyway, engendered such passion and heated debate and I was born a year before the Civil Rights Act was passed. I don’t remember this kind of inflammatory discussion when brave men and women were shipped across the sea to liberate a little country called Iraq. But hold the insurance companies’ collective feet to the fire, or offer health care to a child, or someone with a “pre-existing condition” and we get threats and potential violence against our lawmakers.

Is the health care bill perfect? Not by a long shot. But neither was the Constitution. That’s why we’ve got amendments, people.

Some other things that weren’t perfect? Medicare, the Social Security Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the ERA…need I continue?

A few friends were over the other night, including a friend who has muscular dystrophy. He recounted that because of the arcane system under which we are all laboring (and getting sick), he cannot get treatment because he has the dreaded pre-existing condition. Yes, he’s had MD since he was eighteen. Did it exist before that? No. He already had it when he became an adult, though, and when he went on his own insurance. So he can’t be treated with certain drugs that could possibly minimize the discomfort that he feels from his illness. The insurance company won’t let him. He hasn’t quite figured out how to get around this Catch-22 and he’s forty-five years old living with a chronic disease that he’ll be living with for the rest of his life.

Then you’ve got me. Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma, a deadly diagnosis at best. There was one surgeon with whom we consulted who would even attempt to remove the tumor from my groin. He felt that the operation would be successful, unlike the other surgeons we consulted. He felt that he could cure me. The only catch? The hospital where he performed my surgery didn’t take my insurance. The cost? Upwards of six figures.

Fortunately, I come from a family with the means to help me pay for what turned out to be a life-saving surgery. The operation was successful. Not a day goes by, however, that I don’t think about the mother, sister, aunt, or daughter who has to make the decision either to not have the surgery or go with the surgeon with the shaky hands who isn’t confident that he or she can get the tumor out never mind have the patient survive the surgery. I met that surgeon, incidentally, and he didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Can you imagine having to make that choice?

The Iraq war will cost the American taxpayers close to three trillion dollars by the time we finally get out. I haven’t heard a peep about how much the war is costing the average “Joe and Jane,” but I hear about how we’re going to be paying for someone else’s health care for as long as we live and into future generations. Guess what? We’re paying for it now. Just because we’re not currently insuring the uninsured, we’re still paying when they have an x-ray, or go to the emergency room, or have a strep test at a clinic. We pay every single time.

By the world’s standards, I’m a pretty rich person, even if by the standards of this country I fall solidly into the middle class. It is because I’m a pretty rich person that I am here today. I have the means to pay for the best health care money can buy and I’m not even one of the “Cadillac plan” holders. Without health insurance, and the ability to pay for the difference between what my insurance would cover and what my doctor would accept to take out a five centimeter lump from my groin, I would be dead.

That’s not putting too fine a point on it. That’s the truth. And I can’t bear to think of anyone saying to one of the most sought-after cancer surgeons in the world that they’ll have to pass on the surgery that could save their life because they can’t afford it. I can’t even think about what it would be like to sit around and wait to die, because that would have been my fate. I would not be writing this post—and possibly ticking you off—if I hadn’t had health care. I wouldn’t be here.

Back in 2000, I watched a debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, both of whom were vying for the Democratic nomination. I had always been a Bradley fan and hoped that he would win the nomination, an outcome that was not to be. I remember one of the moderators asking him why we should strive for universal health care in this country. Why, the moderator asked, should we insure the uninsured?

His answer? “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

The plan isn’t perfect. Politics prevail, and not in a good way. As a nation, if we focused on the saying “because it’s the right thing to do”—and made our decisions based on it—as opposed to which side of the aisle someone sits, we’d all be better for it.

I promise to write about Spanx next week.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. At the beginning of February I went on a Caribbean cruise. When we stopped in the Cayman Islands I met a young woman who is a cop in Washington, DC. She asked me, as a Canadian, how we thought of our national health care, because she had been hearing it described as socialist. I told her that Canadians thought of health care as a right, like freedom of speech. And the news items you read about long wait times are mostly untrue. Sure, there are waiting lists for specialists, especially for the top rated surgeons, but there would be a waiting list for them regardless, so it's a false indicator. With a sister (and family) who are American, I was quite pleased to hear about the President's health care bill. I think, as a nation, you'll all be better off for it.

  2. Dear Mags:

    1) Dozens who love you are also glad you had a path to that great care and we work and hope for the day when many we'll never meet can take that same path.

    2) You are on the money about how we all pay for care right now. Try to get this, Anti-Health Care Reform types: illness and injury don't abate because we don't have universal care. People are getting and will get sick or injured and our current dumb system will have many of them—our neighbors and friends and relatives—struggling to get treated, sometimes dying or suffering needlessly, sometimes crushing their families in the process. Many only get care it's by stacking up in crowded ERs all around the nation, not always getting the right medicine but always getting it at an extremely high cost that Guess-Who pays for in the end! So, it’s both ineffectual and most expensive. Great.

    3) I am among those let down by the absence of a universal, public option. But, we can keep working on delivering smart, effective, and affordable care to save the lives of more and more Americans, all of whom deserve good health care and a fighting chance. I am, as some know, not a religious woman and don’t hold lots of “Christian” ideals, but these people are what even I would call our brothers and sisters in this world. No one, my self included, could ever be diminished by looking out for them as well as for ourselves. How could it be wrong to put the health and wealth of our country and our world ahead of a few more bucks of disposable income? Can’t most of us say, as Mags did, that we all have so much and are already wealthy? So what if you don’t buy as many tchotchkes or go out to eat as often? Maybe it’s time to face that giving more to others over buying more imported crap at Target is just what it costs to have a great society? Maybe it’s just the cost of doing business, you know? We can keep improving the system, and this current bill, while not my favorite, is a solid step forward. (On a separate note: I personally think we do much the same with funding our military—we love to say how much we respect and support the troops, but won’t pay the taxes to give them more of what they need and deserve while in service and after they come home. It’s sickening.)

    4) I am so fed up with people who are happy to deny tax money to others for things they don't themselves need (or, rather, foolishly don't think they need). But, don't try and take away THEIR benefit that comes from taxes! THAT is wrong, right? It's petty and selfish. No matter who you are, somewhere is at least a handful of publicly funded programs from which you or your family benefit. So, drop the crap about not wanting to see government burden future generations and acting like you alone are the standard bearers for personal responsibility and self-reliance!

    There, I’m done venting. For now. Thanks, Mags.

  3. Zita, I'm so happy to hear from you on this topic. I'm glad to have the Canadian perspective. There has been a lot of fear-mongering on this topic, but if we discuss it rationally, a lot of that fear goes away.

    Vicky, I agree with you whole-heartedly, obviously. I was a bit nervous posting this blog but it is something I am passionate about. Having been in the belly of the health care beast, I feel that I have a different perspective on it.

    Thanks, friends.

  4. Since we are insured through both Medicare and Champus (because of husband's 20 years in the Navy) we are already getting government health care.

    Having said that, I do have some reservations about the health care bill because it has so much junk in it that has nothing to do with health care. It's far too long for anyone to really have a good handle on what all is in it. I'm also worried about the cost. I probably won't be around when it finally reaches it's potential, but my grandkids and great grandkids will.

    I am hoping for the best, however, because I prefer to be optimistic rather than the other way. And I'm also praying about it--something I do for anything that I think needs more help than our government or anyone else can give it.


  5. Marilyn, thank you. See? This is reasonable debate. It's a discussion. An exchange of ideas. I'm glad you're remaining optimistic and that you're praying about it; two positive things to do in the face of a major topic.

  6. Excellent blog post, Maggie! I'm hoping the new health care reform "law" opens the floodgates for new tort reform laws on medical malpractice and other measures to lower health care costs. I can understand why universal coverage didn't stay on the table this year, but the new law is a good start to getting more people covered by insurance. I'm sure the law will need some tweaks as it's implemented but we needed to start somewhere.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  7. Anjali Kapoor-DavisMarch 31, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    Thank you Maggie for leading a healthy conversation on this touchy topic. I am a 5 plus year survivor of Thyroid cancer, haven't gotten rid of it yet but I keep trying. As you probably know from your experience getting cancer is an education and not one I picked out of a course catalog. It's enough to deal with all of the physical, mental and emotional drain without also having to contend with the financial one. I have pretty good insurance that has helped cover multiple surgeries and treatments. Without it we'd be in financial ruin but even with it we struggle to cover what the insurance doesn't. I haven't read all 2000 odd pages of the health care bill but I hope that they are on the right track. I pray too that they put aside their differences and do the right thing for all of us. Thank you.

  8. Anjali, first of all, I love your beautiful name, and second, thank you for commenting. You know, too well, how much it costs to battle cancer and any other "chronic" disease. I haven't the entire health care bill either but like you, I'm hoping that it helps more people than it hurts. Hang in there, sister. Maggie

  9. Great remarks, Maggie! I'm glad you're here to make them, but your family should not have had to finance your survival, when that's precisely what you've been paying premiums for.

  10. You know, I was in the military for years. My two daughters were both delivered while I was in the Navy, and they, their mother, and I all received several years of great government-sponsored medical care.

    I have a friend whose daughter is out of work. She was a teacher but was laid off. Her husband is a full-time part-time postal employee. You know what I mean: he works fifty hours a week, but is considered a part-time employee. So, they have no medical insurance, and have not had for about a year.

    This lady's daughter has a couple of health issues, and she has her pride, too. She won't ask her mom for help (not that she's rich, by any means) but sometimes she hears about it in a roundabout way... like lately when her daughter was diagnosed with pneumonia at an urgent care facility that her husband had to almost drag her into... and she refused to take the oxygen they offered her because she felt they couldn't afford it.

    The young woman is going to college again to learn another job, and selling handmade crafts at craft shows and online. He's working his butt off for the USPS. It galls me when people say that people like this young couple don't deserve health care.

    I'm sorry for venting, but you really hit a nerve there, Maggie. You... and Bill Bradley... are absolutely on target. "Because it's the right thing to do." That's why President Obama pushed so hard for this health care plan, and that's why I'm very proud to say I voted for him.

    Tony Burton

  11. Kris: I agree wholeheartedly. Something is wrong with this sytem and it needs to be changed.

    Tony: The people you describe are precisely the people who need to be helped. I had pneumonia last summer and it stinks. The thought of having to turn down oxygen because I couldn't afford it? I am sickened by the thought of that. But there are millions of people out there who have to make those choices and we are far too civilized a country and have far too much to allow that to happen. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. Maggie

  12. I agree there is a lto of stuff in it I dont like. But that said, most of it will make a huge difference to a lot of people. And you ar eright, we ARE paying for the uninsured already. And as for "socialism" one could argue our public education system, police, fire departments etc.. are socialized. But we need them of course, just as we need universal health care.

    What makes me frustrated is the outright untruths that people have been told and believe about this law. My mother asked me on Easter is it true it will eliminate medicare? What? What group is claiming that now? So many people have been frightened by stuff that isnt true or is distorted. Its really sad.