Friday, January 22, 2010

My Country Makes Me Want To Cry

When my son was diagnosed with cancer, I cried for three days straight. Then I realized, "This is pointless, counterproductive non-supportive, and really, really boring." So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and life became relatively normal again.

After Tuesday's election, I am back at the "cry for three days" part.

At least I hope it's only three days.

After the diagnosis, there were two big pains in my heart after I discovered that my son's odds of surviving this were extremely high. First, that he might never be able to have kids. Second, that he would never be able to get health insurance.

The doctors put my mind at ease on the first bit. After only two rounds of chemo, the chances of conceiving normally are very high. If not, there's a backup plan in a freezer somewhere.

After Tuesday's election and the consequent death of health reform -- plus Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that corporations can contribute unlimited money to elections -- the second issue will not resolve so easily. Actually, it will not resolve at all. Ever. Health reform -- meaning, true, meaningful health reform that adds the USA to the list of civilized countries where healthcare doesn't belong just to the rich and/or large-company-employed -- is dead. It will not happen. Not now and probably not ever.

I've read through the early ideas about "compromise" that are being floated, and there is nothing in there that will benefit people like my son (aside from the possibility that we will be able to keep him on our health insurance for a few extra years.) And this despite the fact that the chance of a recurrence of his type of cancer are tiny.

Companies will not be required to cover people with pre-existing conditions except in children under nineteen years of age. After that, people are on their own. His only chance for healthcare coverage in this country in his lifetime will be to get a fulltime job with a large company after college and to never, ever get laid off, or try to start his own company, or leave for any reason -- unless it's to work for another large company.

I have an MBA, (Master's in Business) which is probably why I find the US healthcare-for-profit business model so shocking. I don't think most people realize that the only thing corporations (like health insurance companies) are required to do is maximize shareholder value. They have no responsibility to their customers at all except as it relates to doing well enough by the customers to keep stock price high. This means that they are essentially required to cover only healthy people, because covering people who might get sick drags down profits and consequently stock price.

This is not how you create a healthy country, either physically or financially.

And now, with the most recent US Supreme Court ruling that corporations can contribute unlimited money to influence elections, all health insurance companies have to do to maintain their profits and stock price is flood the market with millions of dollars in ads to target any politician with the guts to challenge the status quo.

(And by the way, this is now true for anything that might benefit the individual over the corporation. This is probably the scariest ruling by the Supremes in the 21st century when it comes down to its overall effect on our country.)

It's not coincidence that health insurance stocks have soared this week.

Of course, their profits will be at the expense of people like my son and anyone else who's had the audacity to ever get sick, but hey. This is America. Profit trumps all.

I actually read up on the internet about emigrating to Canada last night. No plans to make a move right now, for him or for us, but it's good to know that there are options.


I think I'm going to go cry a little more now.

(If I had more time, I'd go off on a economic-nerd tangent about why the current system is actually anti-business and killing the US entrepreneurial spirit that has made the country something special. Alas, I don't. Maybe some other time.)


Katie said...

I am devastated too :( There is just so, so much wrong with all of this.

I have good health insurance right now for the first time in my life. My dad, as a small business owner, could really only afford the kind of insurance that had crazy high deductibles, so they ended up basically paying out of pocket for all of our health expenses. For most of my 20's, even without any pre-existing conditions, I couldn't get insurance cheaper than about $350/month, and even then there would be deductibles as high as $10,000. So I took my chances, based on the fact that I was young and basically healthy, and paid out-of-pocket for any doctor's visits (except that which I could get covered by the state).

So, basically, I saved tens of thousands of dollars in my twenties by not having insurance and, thank God, never had a major illness arise that would have cost more than what the insurance would have cost in the first place.

So now I'm lucky. I happened to marry a man who happens to work a very stable job in a company that happens to provide great health insurance to employees and their spouses.

This is beyond ridiculous!! There is no reason why I should have better health coverage than anyone else, just because of being lucky now. There is no reason why anyone else should have had better health coverage than I did when I was 12 just because my dad had the gall to follow his gifts and passion for real estate.

What really gets me is how even though some of the health insurance companies are supposedly "non-profit" they still basically operate as being for profit anyway (e.g. Blue Shield/Blue Cross).

Anyway, UGH. It all makes me want to cry too :(


Mike the Eyeguy said...

I hear ya. It's not been the greatest week for the little guy/gal.

Not sure what his major or plans are, but another option aside from a large corporation is, ironically enough, working for the feds. Great options, can't deny ya based on preexisting conditions, etc.

He (and you) shall overcome.

Laurie said...

Katie and Mike, thanks for commiserating. It helps to vent, and it helps to know you're not alone.

I can't believe how easily the voices of ordinary people who are affected by legislation (or lack thereof) have been silenced in this debate.

Mike, he's in the business school, concentration undetermined but leaning toward finance. (I know, huh?) His grades are very good, so his chances of landing a job with benefits -- either private or public sector -- after graduation are better than fair. And in the current legislative discussions is the possibility that parents can keep kids on their insurance till 25-ish, which would almost get him through the five years where he'll need quarterly checkups. He (we) could be much worse off. I have to keep telling myself that.

But that's no consolation for the people who actually ARE worse off and stand no chance of landing that Holy Grail job-with-benefits.

Our country has its priorities so screwed up.

Laurie said...

And Katie, thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. I feel the same way. Access to healthcare in this country shouldn't be a good luck lottery! I don't deserve our good benefits more than anyone else, and I'd gladly sacrifice some of what I have (through taxes or whatever) to benefit the people who work just as hard but haven't had the same luck.

Kim said...

I just don't get the "pre-existing condition" thing! Isn't life a pre-existing condition? So basically, if you are alive we cannot cover you with health insurance. If you're dead, well then no insurance is required.

I retired 3.5 years ago and DH was working, covered by insurance. My premium is $450+ per month. Fast foward to he is out of work like so many other folks. Adding him to my health insurance plan would make our monthly premium $1,600+!!!! And heaven forbid if something major happens, will my rates be raised to pay back any claims? It is on homeowners and auto insurance. Just a matter of time on health insurance.

This entire issue makes me crazy, especially when the folks charged with fixing the system don't have to worry about medicare, don't pay into social security, and after only 4 years on the job, have a retirment plan for the rest of their lives AND health care! What is wrong with THIS picture!!!