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August 18, 2009

Lying about Health Care Reform

Health_town hall I live in Canada these days. My second husband is Canadian, and my daughter and I are permanent residents. The odds are long that I will ever be an actual resident of the United States again, so I don't really have an urgent personal stake in the health care debate. I have health care because I am a legal resident of the province of Alberta. I don't have to worry about what will happen if I should be diagnosed with a terminal illness as my late husband was. I don't need to jump through hoops of fire to secure disability status so I can have access to provincial health care as my late husband needed to do in order to receive help from Medicaid. My being ill would not threaten the roof over my daughter's head. It wouldn't bankrupt my husband. 

But I have family in the States and many friends for whom this is not so. It angers me to hear an elected official not tell the truth about something that is so very important.

Yesterday I read that Sen. Grassley, in a town hall meeting in Iowa, had perpetuated the idea of the so-called "death panels" that would result from the health care reform currently being labored over in Congress and I thought, What? That's not true. How could my former Senator, a man I thought was above the party line rhetoric that believes half-truths are as good as truth in a pinch, perpetuate information that simply isn't factual?

When my late husband lost his job his job in the summer of 2003 because of the rapid cognitive degeneration caused by his illness, we were left teetering on the brink of financial collapse. In desperation, we applied to Social Security for disability pension. He was eligible and entitled to it, but as most people know, applying for Social Security Disability Insurance is a process that for people with rare diseases can take months or years to secure. The very nice young man at the Social Security office gently explained to me that up to 70% of first applications are denied and that it would likely take a year or even two to for my husband's case to work it's way through the denial and appeals process. This was in spite of the fact that he was terminal and had no fewer than 3 neurological specialists vouching for his continual decline and inevitable death. 

"You could petition your state senator," the young man told me. "Sometimes they can help speed up the process."

And so I approached both my state senators and was surprised when the Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, assigned an aide in his Des Moines office to review and oversee my late husband's case. Even with her help, and she was a lovely person who I cannot thank enough, it took nine months before all the approvals were given and the insurance was granted. For this reason, I have always had a kind word for Grassley though I don't support many of his ideals, I thought him a decent person who cared about his constituents and to whom bi-partisanship was more than just a way to get re-elected.

There are no "death panels" in the offing. The health care bill would simply allow people who wanted to draw up a living will to have access to people who could walk them through the process of deciding if it was something they needed and help them formulate a plan that best suited their ideals and needs. Having a living will allows a person to control what will or will not happen to them should they become incapacitated by accident or illness. It saves their loved ones from having to guess what they would have wanted when they are unable to communicate their wishes. A living will is a very good idea. It is as important as having a last will and testament. It is the most wonderful gift a person could give to their loved ones in a time of tragedy, but no one is under any obligation to ponder their life's end unless she wants to.

And it's being lied about in the hopes that it will scare people into not wanting health care reform because reforming health care would be bad for the economy. Maybe the constitution should read "of the people, by the people but for the good of the economy" because some of the elected officials, and a surprising number of ordinary people, seem to think that making money is the reason health care exists at all. Health care, in their view, is a way for some people to profit handsomely and not at all about caring for the sick and injured. They are incidental and even inconvenient. Sick people suck at the bottom line and should be purged slowly from the health care system via high deductions and co-pays or excluded entirely by invoking "pre-existing condition" clauses.

I am disappointed in Sen. Grassley and anyone else who uses misinformation to frighten people away from an idea that has been too long in coming to the United States - that health care is not a privilege but the right of every citizen and that governments are responsible for the physical welfare of their people.

No one should lose her home because her husband or child got sick. No one should go bankrupt in a country that is supposedly the land of opportunity and plenty and a shining example of what is good about democracy and freedom, should she?
The United States already practices socialism in the form of Social Security which delivers pensions to senior citizens and insurance payments to the disabled and provides survivors benefits to widows and their children. It delivers health care through Medicare and Medicaid. It partly funds our public school systems, and it provides benefits to the unemployed. What it does not do is protect its citizens from the mercenary practices of health insurance providers who are responsible for the majority of bankruptcies every year that decimate individuals and families. This hair-splitting about socialism seems very self-serving and unfair, and what it appears to be getting down to is that some people prefer the inequity of the current health care system because they aren't being hurt by it and don't want it to be fair. Equality in health care might mean having to wait in a doctor's office with the woman who cleans their house or the guy who pours their coffee. 

This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby of anniegirl1138.