• A Political Amputation

    This is a guest post authored by Jack Rodolico, a graduate student with College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, focusing in environmental journalism. Though most of his stories for the Mount Desert Islander newspaper involve local marine issues, he also writes short stories and non-fiction essays. This is non-fiction.

    My wife has a chronic health condition for which she needs constant, expensive care. The disease squirmed out of some dark hole and bit her and now she will sting for the rest of her life. She needs it all – pills, X-rays, doctors, specialists (insert “expensive doctors”), therapies, acupuncture, special foods, and maybe surgery someday. Big time surgery. Removing a major organ surgery. She is frequently in pain. On a scale of 1 to 10, I once saw it hit a 12. And then there’s the blood.

    She is 27 years old.

    Life is unpredictable and not necessarily fair. We can both accept this, even with a smile. What we cannot accept is a system of governance that has the power to help us, but is impotent because of its disorganization and discord.

    I am not one to blame government for all my problems, or to say that government can or should fix all problems. But I am cognizant of the fact that health care cannot be fixed without major government intervention. Consider my wife, Christina.

    Christina cannot get health insurance. We are too “rich” for Medicaid, we are too poor for private insurance. We are so deep in the middle we cannot get to either shore. If we get poorer, she could get Medicaid; but who would accept that as an option? If we get richer, we could afford health insurance; but this, too, is unlikely because at the current rate her medical debt is increasing we will most likely continue to break even. Besides, she has a preexisting condition, which means the health insurance companies won’t even let her in the door. Both of us are trying to finish a graduate degree to improve our job prospects, but this puts us deeper into debt (good debt, right?) and further away from health care we can afford. Plus, nowadays she cannot hold onto a job because of her erratic health status. This makes the option of employer provided insurance out of the question until her health stabilizes, if it stabilizes. If it were not for some very good luck and the financial support of family, we would be totally screwed – I imagine there are a lot of Americans who are.

    And there we were – all of us – on the verge of a major health care overhaul. Something that would benefit those of us who are being torn in half by the system, who are being hustled like a kid in a pool hall. And what happened? Well, one Senator was elected – 1 out of 100.

    At first I was disappointed, but after marinating I am angry. Not with the Senate race, that is. I honestly don’t care much either way; politics is, after all, a pendulum. I am utterly fed up with a system that can so easily cast aside what is necessary for so many people. I am fed up with everyone, from the top to the bottom.

    I am frustrated by the Democrats, who supposedly had 90% of the bill figured out months ago. They squandered their time in disagreement, completely unable to compromise in a timely manner.

    I am disgusted by the Republicans, who made a tactical decision to oppose health care reform as a means of grubbing for power.

    I am disappointed with the President, who should still be out there selling and campaigning for health care. In fact, he never should have stopped after he made his address to Congress back in September.

    I am appalled by the media, who by and large try to report simple facts before the competition does, or to report with more bells and whistles. Right now the media should be flooding the airwaves with stories about people who will get left out in the cold by anything other than aggressive reform. Instead they just report on what this Senator said, or what the President hinted at. They keep a scorecard.

    I am fed up by a political system that is so dysfunctional that it can neither operate with a super-majority or with a balance of powers. Both political parties – Democrat and Republican – are endlessly posturing and jockeying for the next election. Everything they do seems to be either a desperate grasp for more power, or a pathetic attempt to hold onto it. The notion of compromise in order to come to a common solution is an abstraction to them, a lofty goal they talk about but never seriously work towards. And what is the result? One Senate seat – a single seat! – switches hands, and an entire year’s worth of deliberation, hard work, and the energy of a thousand suns is all extinguished by a tiny splash. I know that one seat represents more than one vote in many ways, and so it is not just one seat that changed hands. But that we allow it as a culture to represent so much is precisely what I am so fed up with.

    And finally, I am really fed up with us – the American people. Are we really that short-sighted, that a few extra months of debate led to rampant uncertainty about the viability of a health care overhaul? Are we going to allow health care reform to sparkle and fade, leaving plenty of people far worse off than Christina to sit back and watch the market “fix” the problem?  Is there a pill to cure our cultural ADD?

    I don’t know – I’m still bewildered by the whole thing. Maybe something good will still come of this, whether in the near or distant future. But what it seems like now is that if Christina and I try to find her health insurance tomorrow or in a year, we will be in the same position we are in now. As I see it, there is very little I can do to change this.

    With one exception, that is. Next time around, I am voting for a third party candidate. I hope we all come to our senses and use a scalpel to amputate our diseased political organ before my wife decides to excise her colon.

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    • Austin, you may or may not recall that back in the Fall of 2008 I organized a health policy workshop at BU School of Public Health where I worked with a group of students to present speakers and discussion precisely around the point of this essay. The students learned a huge amount from putting it together, and I think the audience did too. And despite it being a “liberally oriented SPH” there were conservatives there, and a lot of agreement came out of making this the focus.

      We also discussed at that time, and it has been clear throughout the debate, about the political equation of this conundrum. If we make it clear that this is a key part of the solution, we could put the stories of the Christinas out there (we had Donna Smith come and speak as part of this forum, and her story that has similarities to this is famous for being picked up by “you know who” in Sicko) but then would all those healthy people with health insurance just realize that “their health insurance costs might go up”? I agree it is politically disgusting, and no one is making themselves look good in trying to pick up the pieces either. Is there a sense of basic fairness in the American people or not?

    • Thanks for sharing the story. I do feel that having more people express the opinion that you do with convincing arguments might help. I too am disgusted with the democrats. I can’t understand how they can’t get past their petty squabbling. I am also fed up the media which seems to distort the truth.

    • Jack and Christina,
      I am so sorry that our broken health care system has compounded your problems so greatly. Thank you for sharing your story – it’s so important. In Massachusetts, where we have enjoyed “guaranteed issue” for some time, many people don’t realize that in most states people can be shut out of the system for preexisting conditions. I moved to California for three years after 9 years in Massachusetts. I found myself having to fill out a 10-year health history to get insurance, on the basis of which two insurance companies rejected my application citing preexisting conditions. These were MINOR issues that had been treated and resolved. I had no chronic health issues. It opened my eyes greatly – how could *anyone* with a chronic condition ever get care if they weren’t on a group plan through the chances of employment or affiliation? Our system is so deeply broken. Any change in the right direction is good change, because left alone the system is just going to get worse. May Americans listen to your story and others’ stories with empathy and outrage – may we fight, fight, fight for the common good on this one.