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Health care, or the issue everybody is angry about…

Does Canada’s Health Care System Need Fixing?

As I drove to work yesterday morning NPR did a couple of pieces on the nation’s health care plans/policies.  They’ve talked about health care seemingly every day for a while now, but today they talked about something new: Canada’s health care system, and how some political groups (*cough*republicans*cough*) are using it to scare the populace about switching to a nationwide health care system.

As you might as guessed, since I have CKD I’m very interested in how Obama plans on reforming the health care system and, yes, I’m even interested in what the republicans think.  I’m not a complete idiot; Clinton had a plan to balance the budget, but when Bush got into office that plan seemingly was thrown out the window.  Obama may spend his 4 years getting a excellent plan in place just to have it trashed by the next president.

My perspective in this matter is twofold: right now I’m concerned mainly about early/preventative care (what there is to be had), but later on I’ll be more concerned about treatment, whether it be dialysis or transplant (or both).  From my current understanding, a universal health care plan is good for the second part but not for the first, since I have been told in the past that people have died waiting for health care in places like Canada.

Why did they die?  I’ve been told that they died because the illness they had was bad but didn’t need treatment immediately, so they got put on a waiting list, a waiting list so long that months went past before they could even see a specialist.  The most well known illness that people had on this list was cancer, and by the way “people” are talking many Canadians died in the months they were waiting for treatment.  I admit, this does sound scary.  The mental images that are portrayed make you think of people lying around, too weak to move, unable to get the care they need.  But how true is it?  Does Canada’s government just let people die all the time from lack of health care?

Actually, after listening to NPR yesterday morning and doing a little more research, I think it’s the other way around.  I think the U.S. government lets more people die due to lack of health care, while Canada has the right idea.  Have people died in Canada waiting for health care?  Yes, but far fewer than what you might think.   And according to Canadian researchers, the number of Canadians who seek health care in the United States because their own health care is insufficient is very rare.  They say “it’s a bit like getting struck by lighting — it’s extremely rare, but when it happens, everyone talks about it”, and overall the Canadian public still strongly supports universal health care.

However in the U.S., while there technically may not be waiting lists a mile long, you have to deal with something far more evil:  private insurance companies and their list of clauses and exemptions.  I’ll get to those who are completely uninsured in a moment, but for now I want to focus on the “regular guy”, a person who goes to work every day and has health insurance that they pays for every month (either via their employer or privately).  I won’t go through the complete scenario because you’ve probably already heard something like it before, but the short of it is they get majorly sick or have a heart attack or whatever.

Now you would think they would be fine.  They have health care, they are protected, right?  Actually, in far too many cases, no, they aren’t protected enough.  Too many of us, myself included, just sign up for our health insurance plans without a second thought, never reading the fine print.  Why should you?  The insurance company wouldn’t do something that would kill someone, right?  And anyway how could you, since sometimes the legalese in the insurance documents can make your head spin before your past the document’s header date.

But far too many people are finding out after the fact that things just “happen to get left out” for one reason or another, even after they’ve called their insurance provider for a estimate.  I can’t remember where I found that article now, but it wasn’t that long ago that I was reading about a couple who are now bankrupt because the medical costs were thousands more than what they expected.  Why?  It was because while their plan said it covered hospital stays, it only covered the ultra basics like the bed and food.  It failed to cover things like the pain medication the guy was given, or the supplies that the hospital used to clean with (that you get billed for), etc. etc.

According to the National Coalition on Health Care:

“A recent study by Harvard University researchers found that the average out-of-pocket medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy was $12,000. The study noted that 68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. In addition, the study found that 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses.9 Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.”

Every time I read that I shudder inside.  Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. goes bankrupt because of a serious health problem.  68 percent of those who filed had health insurance.  And what do you think happens when you go bankrupt?  Your life gets tossed upside down, stress levels go through the roof, you now may have trouble just buying the basic necessities of life like food or affording a place to live.  If you are older your whole life savings (or a lot of it) might have just gone up in smoke.  If you are young you might bounce back eventually but now you have that dreaded of all things: a pre-existing health condition.  You will now have trouble getting any kind of health/life insurance for the rest of your life.  Trust me, I know about that last bit.

And what about those people who don’t have health insurance?  Oh, if you have a heart attack you’ll probably be rushed to the hospital and treated, but without insurance you’re probably going to be a lot poorer for the experience (just check this chart out).  But what about those who develop cancer?  Once diagnosed, it’s now a pre-existing condition as far as the private health insurance companies are concerned, so they won’t cover you.  There are options, yes, but none of them are cheap, and a lot of people who don’t have health care insurance don’t have it because they can’t afford the cost of premiums.  Instead of a waiting list, some of these people are faced with a terrible choice: become a financial burden on their family, or die.

Do I think Canada’s health insurance policies are the greatest ever?  No, there is of course room for improvement.  Obviously they think so too, as they have dumped billions of dollars into fixing the problems.  But really the problems they do have are being blown completely out of proportion, and they are working on them.  Would I dread the thought of waiting for necessary health care?  Sure.  But you know what?  I have to wait now anyway.  It took me months to get my initial appointment with a specialist, and that was just so he could basically say hi and order some tests.  So far I haven’t seen these awesome benefits of the U.S. way of doing things.  All I know is that I pay for medical insurance at work, I still have to pay a chunk to the doctor every time I see him, I have to pay for all of my medical tests, and I still have to wait most everywhere I go.  So far my medical insurance is like a GameStop discount card: every once in a while it really comes in handy to lower the costs, but I still end up paying more than I feel I should be.

So I say bring on universal health care.  Not only do I have a feeling that it can’t be any worse that what we already have, if necessary I will gladly step forth to be on a waiting list for health care.  Why?  Because I know when I get the treatment I’ll be covered.  No bullshit about pre-existing conditions or eligibility or approved expenses.  Just covered.  And not only that, but Sara will be covered, and Ne as well.  I am more than willing to step up and go through a bit of pain waiting if it means my wife, daughter, and I will have the health care we need without having to worry about going bankrupt to pay for it.

I’m going to be going through pain living anyway.  :)