October 24, 2009

History Calls

Certain words or phrases have a way of collecting baggage that causes us to embrace or reject the concepts they represent. Such seems to be the case in the current din about health care reform. Good neighbor Lorraine Collins offers her views on this timely topic.

Quite a few years ago a friend told me that the last ten days of her mother’s life cost a quarter of a million dollars. She was in anguish as she told me this, not only because of the financial burden, but because the last ten days of her mother’s life were not improved by this huge expenditure. She was either unconscious or suffering during the entire time. It was cruel for everybody, and there should have been some way to prevent this from happening.

These days we know about living wills and powers of attorney for health care, and when we go to a doctor’s office or the hospital we may see pamphlets dealing with end of life issues. In fact, if we sign up with a new clinic or are admitted to the hospital we may be asked whether we have drawn up some kind of end of life document giving our preferences about how to treat us in the final extremity. This is not exactly a radical idea.

This is why I was so outraged by people who appear to object to any health care reform talking about “death panels”, trying to scare us oldsters about how the government wants to more or less send us out on ice floes into the Arctic Sea to get rid of us because we cost a lot of money.

Elderly people generally do cost a lot of money. One reason Medicare is predicted to be in financial straits is that the dread Baby Boomer generation is about to become old enough to qualify for it. So, what do you think we should do about this situation, other than having the government convene death panels deciding who gets that extra week of life and who doesn’t?

Well, health care reform might be a good idea. It may even take care of other problems, such as the millions of people with no health insurance, the millions who show up at emergency rooms to be treated by hospitals whether they ever get reimbursed or not, the millions who go bankrupt because of medical expenses. By now, if we don’t know the statistics, we must have been living in a cave next to Osama Bin Laden, who, so far as we know, has no health care insurance plan other than an AK47. The statistics tell us we have the most expensive health care in the world, but leave the largest number of citizens without health care. We are a society that relies on rummage sales and chili feeds organized by neighbors to help people pay for the cancer treatment or the operation or the rehab after a tragic accident. We are a society that says if you have a job that provides affordable health insurance, you’re lucky, and if you lose your job, well, good luck.

There are a whole lot of problems with the current way we deal, or fail to deal with health care problems in the United States, and you must have heard of some of them by now. For instance: the lack of preventative care so small problems don’t become big ones; a lack of primary care physicians who aren’t reimbursed as handsomely as specialists; paying doctors on the basis of how many procedures are done, which encourages more procedures; defensive medicine that requires more tests than necessary to protect from malpractice suits.

Health care reform in the United States is a very complicated, long overdue and extremely necessary process for us to undergo. Our nation will go broke, to heck in a hand basket without it. We don’t need scare tactics, or lies, or TV ads by those who make money in health care. We need a patriotic, compassionate and rational discussion. As Republican Senator Olympia Snow said last week, “When history calls, history calls.”

For heaven’s sake, lets answer the phone.
Our thanks to Spearfish writer Lorraine Collins.

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