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The Real National Debt

By       Message Ed Tubbs     Permalink
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In his Confessions VIII, Saint Augustine offers up one of the most human of all possible prayers: "Give me chastity and continence, but not just now." So analogous to the opposition cries welled past cacophony in the health care debate by those in possession of what they deem to be adequate and reliable and free-to-nicely-inexpensive health care: "It's a fine idea, I suppose . . . so long as it costs me nothing and inconveniences me not in the least."

A Sunday New York Times article, "A Heated Debate Is Dividing Generations in AARP," (click here=&emc=th&pagewanted=print) reports on a town hall members meeting in Marinette, Wisconsin. Fifty-eight year old Karen Rasmussen told the gathering how she and her cancer-sufferer husband were being "crushed by medical debts."

To that, 85-year-old Don Nichols, a Medicare beneficiary, said that those who are complaining about insurance premiums "have only themselves to blame." According to the article, Mr. Nichols added out loud, "If they quit their smoking and drinking, they would be able to afford it." (The article did not note whether Mr. Rasmussen had ever been a smoker, was currently one, or what type of cancer he was battling.)

It is interestingly ironic that Mr. Nichols' own 55-year old daughter, Donna Green, said that since her husband had been laid off and the family is now without health insurance, and as she is ten years away from Medicare, she was "worried."

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When asked to raise their hands, those who would be willing to "pay a little extra, to see that everyone in the country had access to health care, only half did. The old rejoinder, "they just go to the emergency room", came once again to the fore.

That one is a line of horse excreta, and those issuing it know full well that it is. Earlier this year I suffered an atrial fibrillation episode. Fortunately I have care through the VA, care that provides, free of charge to me, with ongoing 90-day supplies of 180 mg Diltiazem capsules that I take every morning. Someone with a similar heart condition, but without access to medical care, would not get that same sort of continuing attention, attention designed to keep him or her from returning to the ER. (By the way, the initial care I received for the A-fib episode was in the Eisenhower Medical Center ER, in Rancho Mirage, California; a private medical facility. And the charge for the four and one-half hours I was being treated exceeded $5,000!)

Disclosure: From 1994 to 2006, when I retired, I was a licensed and appointed life and health insurance representative in California, Florida, and Nevada. I know what the premiums were then. Perhaps to Mr. Nichols, $12,000 per year for an individual policy -- as opposed to a family plan, for example -- is "affordable," though I am inclined to doubt he'd feel that way, were he the premium-paying subscriber.

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My family's story: When my 23 year old niece was fighting Ewing's Sarcoma, her doctors prescribed an expensive therapy, which the health insurance company refused to pay for. The young woman had been all her life a star pupil and a health fanatic. Never in her life had she drawn a puff. The University of Colorado at Boulder presented her MBA, posthumously, to her parents.

The policy director for the association representing American senior citizens said that AAR's studies concluded that one out of every four Americans over 60 would not be able to get health insurance. As an ex-representative, I can testify that that statistic is probably optimistic. Regardless, it was my anecdotal experience that those, not just in that age group, but those past 45, who are accepted by the insurance companies, have something in their medical history that the insurance company will -- not "may," "WILL" -- use to rescind that policy, void it and avoid the claim, should the subscriber actually sustain an illness that requires expensive, or possibly care.

Another article in that same paper, "Trail of E. Coli Show Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef," demonstrates just how subject all of us are to a health care calamity. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print) Twenty-two year old Stephanie Smith was a dance instructor who is now paralyzed from the waist down, the consequence of eating a tainted hamburger, a hamburger patty that her mother had grilled.

Finally, once again in this Sunday's Times, an opinion piece, "Dad's Life or Yours? You Choose." by op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof tells of a family trying to puzzle what to do in a medical crisis that neither they nor anyone else could have imagined facing, but which thousands of American families do confront each year. (click here=&emc=th&pagewanted=print)

David Waddington, a 58-year old wine retailer in Dallas, discovered he had been born with a genetic condition -- polycystic kidney disease (PKD) -- that would require he either receive a kidney transplant . . . or die. He'd lost both kidneys to PKD and was on dialysis, waiting for a donor. Doctors told Mr. Waddington the best match would be found in one of his fully grown sons.

But the hitch that is the conundrum fostered by our health care delivery system: As his sons both have a 50% chance of having the genetic disorder, a.) pretesting will reveal that fact and prevent them from obtaining health care insurance, and b.) donating the kidney that would save their father's life will prevent that donating son from obtaining health care insurance.

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The Harvard study, released more than two weeks ago, that was cited by Democratic US Representative Alan Grayson in his "apology" last week concluded that more than 47,000 Americans die each year . . . because they lack adequate health care coverage. To recap the comparisons drawn by the congressman, that is more than 15 times the number who perished in the September 11 attacks and seven times the number of soldiers we have lost in eight years fighting two wars! EVERY YEAR!

This is a moral abomination that ought to outrage every American, citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth, a nation 80% of its members who are wont to identify themselves as Christians,; followers of the man who spoke repeatedly on the call to care for the weak, the poor, and the sick.

While cost is a critical issue, the issue becomes one of abject hypocrisy when it is recalled how a $300 billion surplus at the start of 2001 was flipped to trillion dollar tax break give-aways to the wealthiest top 2% of US citizens (Hardly what Jesus had as directives in any of his sermons.), how more than a trillion dollars was -- and continues to be -- spent on a war that was hyped as necessary on the crudest of lies. And the problem of how to pay for the tax cuts or the war spending was never the slightest concern of the Republicans and conservative Democrats who voted for them.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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