Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Off topic but relevant to our lives:
Listening to the 'State of the Union', the rebuttal and the 'pre-rebuttal', I was struck by the seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards securing healthcare - especially for the indigent population.

Imagine this scenario: You belong to the middle to lower income rung of the society where you make a living from paycheck to paycheck. You are relaxing inside your home enjoying a good family get-together when you decide to get up and help yourself to some more water from the refrigerator. On your way you happen to trip on the furniture and fell down hard on your knees and double up in excruciating pain. You decide the pain is too much for you to bear and it almost seems like a broken kneecap. Your significant other manages to reach the phone, call 911 and the ambulance comes along. As you are loaded onto the ambulance they ask you about the insurance and you tell them that you are uninsured. They give you disapproving looks, but haul you off to the nearest hospital. Once in the hospital, they say that they cannot start treatment on you until you present them with a major credit card such that they could bill you for expenses. You tell them that in addition to having no health insurance (because your employer did not provide for it); you really do not have any major credit cards. They tell you to sign a few forms that will give you a credit card account immediately. You reluctantly sign and head off into the ER to be treated for a broken kneecap.

Although this scenario is made up - times are coming upon us where we would begin to see this as a form of reality among the more indigent among us. A report released this week titled "Borrowing to stay healthy" compiled by Demos (a public policy group in New York) stated that about 29% of low and middle income families with credit card debt reported using their credit cards to pay for medical expenses for major medical problems. This additional indebtedness tacked onto late fees and interest payments only adds to the suffering endured by the patient and their families.

I was also deeply struck by the following lines from the New York Times op-ed page that talked about this report:

"Its one thing to reach for your Visa or MasterCard to pay for a Barbie doll or a flat-screen TV. It’s way different to pull out the plastic because you have just learned you have cancer or heart disease, and you don’t have any other way to pay for treatment that would prevent a premature trip to the great beyond. A society is seriously out of whack when legalized loan sharks are encouraged to close in on those who are broke and desperately ill"

The report cites the following policy recommendations:
-Differentiate Medical Debt from Consumer Debt
-Limit the Entry of Medical Providers into Financial Services
-Increase Oversight of Lines of Credit Attached to Health Savings Account Products
-Improve screening for eligibility in public or private financial assistance programs
-Enact a Borrower’s Security Act

The report is a little dense reading and may not serve your light reading needs, but is nonetheless an urgent wake up call...
Read it here if time permits...

Emma Lazarus' ditty to the Statue of Liberty is worth remembering here (actually these are the last four lines of her poem 'The New Colossus' :

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Sunflower Optimism said...

We'll see what changes with the Democrats in power. For starters I would like to see every child in this country with medical insurance and well-child care.

Thoughtful post, thank you.

Sunil said...

Well, I am not that ecstatic.. Just yesterday I learnt that a simple thing like the minimum wage bill got shot down in the Senate... Thank you for coming by though...

Sunflower Optimism said...

Oh dear, will I STILL have to keep tabs on the Congress?

Colbert had a funny bit on his shop about Bush's initiative for health care for the uninsured. It went something like this:

"President Bush is going to ask for tax breaks for the poor to buy health insurance. Typically, people who lack health insurance don't pay taxes because they are in too low a bracket, so they won't be getting a tax break on money they don't earn, for taxes they don't pay, so they can't get a tax break. They will use this tax break that they won't get to help pay for the health insurance that they can't afford."

Very funny, when he said it, but also very sad because it is true. Does Bush think we are all idiots?

Sunil said...

Loved that line!!

"They will use this tax break that they won't get to help pay for the health insurance that they can't afford"

Sunflower Optimism said...

*show, not shop, sorry! The show I heard that on was The Colbert Report, right after The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. At first glance Colbert appears to be a very right wing conservative - but he gives it to the right as well as the left. Funny man.