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Health-care system has let us all down



Published: Tue, December 22, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Lewis W. Diuguid

Politicians, right-wing commentators and lobbyists have kept a negative fog over health-care reform.

They’ve skillfully turned people against a single-payer, government-controlled system. They’ve made an alternative “public option” just as distasteful. What’s clear is the political noise has been disturbing and destructive because it is hurting people who need medical services now.

The House and Senate need to get a good, inclusive bill to President Obama.

Go to any soup kitchen, stand in any line with people seeking other assistance. The problem of folks living without is undeniable.

I learned the phrase “life without” from men in prisons. To them it was life without a chance of parole on sentences for crimes such as murder.

They accepted the judgment against them. The men in the Lansing (Kan.) Correctional Facility even made a video detailing the despair of what “living without” feels like. They hoped to dissuade young people from doing what they did.

But working low-wage jobs that offer either no or no reasonably priced health care shouldn’t be a “life without” sentence. Neither should being poor or homeless.

About 47 million people live without health coverage. Compare that to the 2.5 million people behind bars in the U.S. who get health care. Many of them and their families couldn’t afford it outside the razor wire.

The U.S. system, which locks millions of people out of health care, is criminal and even sinful. Universal health care must be seen as a human right, to which everyone is entitled.

Unfortunately in this country good health care — like good legal representation — goes to people with money. That excludes the homeless, the poor, the working poor and many people who have to make hard choices to get by.

That shouldn’t happen in the richest country on the planet. An all-inclusive plan would help hold insurance companies and health care providers accountable to all people.

Health-care costs are set without much accountability on charges. Consumers don’t know what’s appropriate or inflated. Many people are denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

They live in fear, worrying whether pre-cancerous, diabetic or other conditions will mushroom into a life-threatening crisis.

It’s not their fault. Genetics and bureaucracy have conspired against them.

‘Backside covering’ games

What also stinks are the “backside covering” games the existing health-care system plays, which grossly inflate expenses. An employer sent me the following example of an employee who got a splinter in her finger at work:

“After about five days her finger was sore so she was referred to our workers compensation insurance company for care,” the man wrote in an e-mail. That office referred her to a clinic, which referred the worker to a hand surgeon. “The surgeon recommended general surgery on the finger,” the e-mail said.

The surgery was scheduled for a Monday. Over the weekend the splinter came out on its own.

“The employee canceled the surgery and came to work, obviously eliminating a great deal of expense and lost productivity,” wrote the employer, who called his workers compensation company upset and wanted to know why it had pursued a costly and unnecessary course of treatment.

In the reply, a company representative said: “With the patient having normal sensation and circulation prior to the splinter coming out, any injury to the internal structures that occurred by a cavalier attempt to remove it would make me liable.”

The workers compensation company added that it preferred “the avoidance of a litigious situation” to the expense of the operation.

“The legal profession bears a lot of responsibility for today’s health care problems,” the employer said.

I can’t deny that. It is an additional injustice and sin, which health care reform must fix.

X Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.


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