Any health care reform in a storm

Friday, August 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:14 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

I never imagined I would write the next ten words: I’m all in favor of a government-run health care plan.

The Obama administration has put forth a proposal that, among other things, offers a public plan as an alternative to HMOs. Supporters say it would give the masses a cheaper choice. Critics call it a misstep in the direction of socialism and Big Brother.

I don’t believe the hype on either side. Whatever emerges likely will be expensive, complicated and a thousand pages long. It’s not that I subscribe to Obama’s ideas; I’m just so fed up with the current system that, at this point, I support any change period.

For weeks — no, years, dating back to the mid-1990s — conservative legislators have tried to scare me with visions of unsmiling government bureaucrats charging in to examination rooms. And you know what? I doubt a single Congressman has faced a hefty medical bill lately and wondered how they’re going to pay for it. After all, our elected officials have arguably the best health care plan in the country for themselves, and the best pensions. Do they really have my best interests at heart? 

I confess to a bias — my own experience. A bone spur surfaced in my foot recently. Many days it hurts just to walk. My insurance company wants to say it’s a pre-existing condition. I never felt pain or saw a doctor until June — I didn’t have health insurance at all before starting at Mizzou in January — but those sorts of logical inroads often mean little when challenging the medical establishment. 

Why? Because health care in America is a profit-driven industry. Repeat: profit-driven industry. That means HMOs make more moola by NOT treating me. That means they have every reason to hire “experts” to review cases like mine and find any reason to dismiss it. That’s why they dole out millions to hire lobbyists who dole out more millions to the campaigns of congressional members who claim they’re not influenced by lobbyists. That’s why total national health expenditures — currently at $2.4 trillion — are projected to double in the next decade, according to the National Review. Some cost increases are due to new technologies, but the money I take issue with are the billions that HMOs spend to preserve their own billions.

Before you say that profit-driven industries are the American way, let me ask you this. Would you privatize your local police department? Did you ever attend a public school? We don’t shop around for the best deal when our apartment is being robbed, nor do we file a claim to get firefighters on the scene when our home is aflame. We don’t argue over deductibles when demanding that every child have access to quality education. Yet if we’re stricken with breast or prostate cancer, we place our lives in the hands of private companies with a financial incentive stacked against us.

I’ve seen three doctors for my bone spur. One says I need surgery to remove it. Another says I need to put orthotic inserts in my shoes. Number Three, the only one who succeeded in alleviating my pain, says he can cure it through rehabilitation — and surgery is unnecessary.

He’s a fantastic doc, that Number Three. Like Mr. Miyagi at the end of "The Karate Kid," he can work wonders with his hands alone. He knows every state-of-the art technique used on professional athletes, from sports massage to medical acupuncture.

But Number Three is in St. Louis, not under the umbrella of my student health care plan. Number Three isn’t under any insurance networks. Mizzou’s top-notch sports doctors might be able to match what he does, but they work only with Division One athletes. My own insurance doesn’t cover orthotic inserts. The same insurance wants me to cough up $500 for an X-ray taken of my foot; I can only imagine how much they would jack me for a surgery to remove the spurs.

I know my rant pales in comparison to what other patients have gone through, especially those who face life-threatening illnesses. I’m only 33, and a bone spur is small potatoes. But don’t tell me this is the best that America can do. Not when nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured. Not when those who are insured have to prove the legitimacy of their ills every step of the way. Not when an 85-year-old on Medicare can get a hip operation while an uninsured 6-year-old leukemia patient can die.

America can do better than that. And right now, any kind of better would do.

Brian Jarvis is a journalism graduate student at MU.  

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