I am probably the perfect target for John Kerry's pitch for a new approach to health care. My husband took a new job several months ago, and while the job conditions and pay are better than they were in his previous position, there is one big drawback. His new company is small and does not offer a group health insurance plan. We have tried, but been unable to get private health insurance due to pre-existing medical conditions. We are currently paying an astronomical amount of money each month for COBRA coverage. I recently took a job working nights and weekends (so we didn't have to get a babysitter) to get onto a group health plan, but will not even be eligible for coverage for several more months. I'll bet the Kerry campaign would love to let me be a poster child "victim" of the American health care "crisis." No, thanks.
So why would I reject the tempting promise of a government solution to the health care "crisis" in America and why would I find it hard to take John Kerry's proposals seriously and trust Kerry-Edwards to solve the problems that exist today? For one thing, I think that John Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, did a lot to contribute to the high medical costs that result in more and more expensive insurance premiums. The main reason though is out of concern for the quality of health care that would be available under a system with increased government control. Although John Kerry says that his health care solution would not be government-run health care, his liberal record in the Senate and the demands of many of his biggest supporters lead me to believe otherwise. Though Kerry doesn't propose government administered health care services, there is no question that his plan would involve increased government control of health care. Because of my personal experiences, the quality and availability of health care is of utmost importance.
Between my two parents alone, there is a history of two battles with cancer and heart problems. What are the chances that I am going to get through life without inheriting at least one of those medical conditions? Probably not so good. My driving interest in maintaining access to quality health care, however, has even more to do with my children than with me or my parents. My daughter is four years old and has had five surgeries and multiple treatments for various other medical problems in her short life. We also have quite a list of prescriptions that we fill each month. Probably what convinced me most to be suspicious of those wanting the government to play a bigger role in the health care system is our most recent experience.
My daughter had a cholesteatoma removed from her ear this summer. A cholesteatoma is a growth in the ear that, if not removed, can ultimately be fatal. It grows until it crushes and destroys the hearing bones in the ear, then eventually, if left unchecked, can cause damage to the brain. My daughter's surgery took longer than expected because the doctor found her case to be the worst he had ever seen in a child her age. The recurrence rate for cholesteatoma is quite high. Many with the condition require multiple surgeries to remove regrowth. All those with this condition require regular monitoring to make sure the growth has not recurred. This is a condition she will have to deal with for the rest of her life.
I have read many stories of people in Canada waiting for weeks or even months for hospital treatment, sometimes even for serious health concerns such as cancer. (It seems that Americans who can, cross the border for prescription drugs, and Canadians that can, cross the border for timely and quality medical services.) Even more frightening than that, however, are first hand accounts I have read recently. I have been part of a cholesteatoma internet support group for several months now and have seen stories from those having problems both here and in other countries. Here the main problems, in addition to those related to the condition itself, are with insurance companies and are related to how much of the surgery and other expenses of treatment they will pay. The problems for those with government-run health care, in my opinion, are much more troubling. One woman in the cholesteatoma group wrote that she was on a waiting list for months for her surgery. When my daughter was first diagnosed, her ENT doctor told us he was having surgery himself and that if we wanted him to do the surgery we would have to put it off for four weeks. Although she had already had tubes put in her ears twice by this doctor, and we liked and trusted him, we chose to have a partner in his practice do the surgery, rather than wait. I cannot imagine being in the position of knowing that there was something growing in my daughter's ear that was destroying her hearing, and potentially causing damage to her brain, and we had to just wait and let it continue to grow for months. If I was in that position, I would imagine that I would sell or mortgage whatever I needed to in order to travel to wherever it was possible to have the surgery done sooner.
Since I am currently working nights and weekends solely because we are currently unable to get health coverage any other way, I would love to see some innovative alternatives to the current system. Tax free health savings accounts are a great start, but from what I know about them, do not address the issue of catastrophic medical expenses. Tort reform to address the problem of medical malpractice insurance costs is another proposal that could significantly contribute to solving the problem of rising health costs, and along with them, rising health insurance premiums. Whatever combination of approaches ultimately best addresses the current problems is not clear to me, but what I do know is that I do not trust Kerry-Edwards to solve those problems.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link! If you feel so moved, please leave a comment. I have gotten some great comments and emails already giving me lots of information I didn't have about health insurance alternatives. Thanks to all.