Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care a Personal Issue for Some of Us

My grandfather was a small business owner. He was a self-taught machinist without a high school education. He survived the depression (as an orphan) and went on to teach himself a trade, start his own business, build his own house (before the days of onerous permits), and raise a family.

My grandfather, though generous, was also fiscally conservative. He saved and was ready to retire with a significant nest egg (mostly invested in Certificates of Deposit). He retired at 62 with his savings and Social Security as his only income. My grandmother, a life-long home-maker, drew a significantly smaller Social Security pension.

At 65, my grandfather would have received Medicare. But you see, for some reason, he had never bothered to purchase health insurance. And since he didn't have it while he was working, he didn't think he'd need it in retirement, especially since Medicare was just three short years away.

Sadly, cancer did not wait on medicare. Medical bills depleted most of my grandparents' savings. In fact, my grandmother was still paying for my grandfather's illness years after his death. When she turned 65, my grandmother received Medicare benifits and eventually took out an AARP supplemental policy. But neither of her insurance plans at that time covered prescription medications. She spent the rest of her life spending most of her fixed income on her own medical care. The lack of insurance, or insurance that covered the real cost of health management left hard-working, saving, thrify people spending their retirement years far less comfortably than they had planned for, hoped, and deserved.

My other grandmother was a teacher. She did not have the added income of a spouse in her retirement years. She had social security and teacher retirement pensions and an insurance policy. That insurance policy proved invaluable as Alzheimers disease struck and left her needing a great deal of care. Where would she have been without it? And if she had chosen a different profession, she might not have had insurance. Then what?

My father had a union job and therefore had good benefits. Again, this was lucky for him as he was forced to retire slightly early because of health challenges that probably resulted from a lifetime of factory work. What if he had worked for a non-union company? What if he had not been lucky enough to have health insurance? How would he have paid for his oxygen, his medications, his quadruple bypass surgery, his year of chemotherapy?

I am in a profession that provides HMO coverage for me. I'm glad. Otherwise, the thousand dollars a month of HIV medications I take to remain healthy would be financially devastating to me. And without the medications...well, we know the story of AIDS.

You see, I know from personal experience and family history that health insurance is not a luxury...it is a necessity. Not every job provides it. Not every individual can afford it. And yet, at some point, almost every individual will need it. Physical health and financial survival may depend on it.

That's what the national health care debate means to me. I don't care if people think its socialist (it is no more socialist than Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, civil service benefits, guaranteed student loans, etc.). I personally don't have a problem with socialism. In fact, I am a great admirer of the social democracies of Western Europe and Canada. I am aware of the Christian Socialist movement of the late nineteenth/early 20th century (championed at the time by such evangelicals as Francis Bellamy, the Baptist who wrote the US Pledge of Allegiance!). But regardless of what it is called, health care is a human right, a practical necessity, and human compassion should make it a priority for an advanced civilization (especially one that imagines itself to have the moral authority to call itself a world leader).

If you have insurance, think of how lucky that makes you. Think of how horrible it might be if you didn't. Think of all the people who don't. Our wealthy nation can provide this necessity for everyone who can't afford it otherwise. Shouldn't that settle the matter once and for all?


et_libs_respond said...

All your comments on this subject today, here and on facebook, have been wonderfully insightful and compassionate. I'm so glad I know you!

Shawna said...

I've benefited by working for an institution that provides insurance. Having had two brain tumors, I'm afraid that if I left this job and the insurance it provides, I might not be covered should another tumor pop up. Our current state of health care in this country is a burden not only on those who don't have insurance, but also on those who cannot seek their most satisfying employment because they have a pre-existing condition and are afraid they'll lost coverage if they change jobs.

Amy said...

It donned on me today how many life decisions are based on health insurance availability. Shawna's post reinforces this.
When to retire?
THe CW is, try to wait until 70 for maximum benefits, but if you're in pain and can't work, you have to go for the earlier date - less money.
How many of us have not changed jobs because of health insurance coverage? Or been desparate to find any job with it?
You don't go to certain doctors because you either can't afford the copay, or need a referral from a non-existant doctor, or that doc is 'out of network', so you have to pay full price.

Shawna, how horrible to learn that you've had two brain tumors and that you live under the threat of more. I'm glad you've had luck with insurance.