I was named for an aunt, my father's baby sister, who died years before I was even a possibility--of pneumonia. She wasn't even 5 years old. I am sure her death caused my grandmother a lot of pain because she was the only daughter in a family of boys. I can't name another child who has died of pneumonia. Why? Because antibiotics were discovered in the 1930s and 1940s, and entered the mainstream of American medicine by WWII. However, what good would antibiotics have been if people couldn't afford to buy them and didn't have insurance that would pay for them. My last course of antibiotics, this last spring, cost around $80. I was lucky my mother was able to pay for them because I have neither a job nor insurance. Why should I have to rely on luck to get medicine I need?
When I was in 8th grade a girl from Poland, a recent immigrant with her parents, joined my class. Though a beautiful girl, most people noticed other things first--the wheelchair, heavy leg braces, and a metal brace that supported her from shoulders to hips. She had been crippled by polio. I have never met another polio victim. Why? Because polio vaccines became available in the mid 1950s and our health authorities required them for any child entering school after that. Moreover, our country was (and is, for the most part) wealthy enough to choose the safer killed virus injectable vaccine over the live virus administered by sugar cube. Countries in Africa have lately seen a surge in polio cases because they have had to make the opposite choice. (Though cost is a major factor in the decision other considerations also entered into the equation--how well the vaccine lasts without refrigeration and how easy it is for untrained personnel to administer also entered in.) But what if we had had the kind of mentality that seems to pervade our current debate on health care reform? What if we had, as a society said, that each individual had to be solely responsible for the costs and, if you couldn't afford it--too bad? Many of the kids who did get the polio shots over the last nearly 60 years got them because their parents had insurance or because they qualified for programs that paid all or most of the cost.
Throughout my childhood, my siblings and I got regular medical, vision, and dental exams and, when needed, glasses and dental treatments. My father had insurance coverage through the Teamsters Union. When I hear pundits talk now about how unions have made us unable to compete effectively with foreign workers I see red. They don't mention that most of those foreign workers against whom we compete have better health coverage than we do and neither the workers nor the companies are on the hook for the costs. Those costs are borne by the societies at large who see their workers as a valuable resource and are willing to invest in them. We see workers and their families as expendable costs to be trimmed to the bone, used up, and, finally, discarded. I don't know about anyone else but I really, really resent the feeling that comes from the realization that I don't count--at least to the economic and many of the political powers that be.
I had good preventative care until I got out of the Navy. Since then it has been haphazard. I have worked for businesses that simply did not offer health insurance. Or when they did, I couldn't afford the premiums even at the highest deductibles. One of the schools I attended had a free clinic which offered services at a discounted rate. That made the stitches I needed for a badly cut knee and the antibiotics I needed for a very nasty case of strepthroat affordable.
Although I am a veteran I haven't lived any where near any Veteran's Administration Facility. However, people I have known who have dealt with the Veteran's Administration illustrate the answer to the question I asked above--what if the marvels of medicine were simply not affordable. My late ex-husband died waiting for an appointment with a doctor. He had been on the waiting list for six months when he died and the appointment was not scheduled until seven months after he died. He had no other insurance. He had to retire and go on Social Security at 62 because of his health problems but he was still too young for Medicare. What about Medicare, you ask? Well, his combined income from his Navy pension and from Social Security made him too 'wealthy' for Medicaid. Too wealthy for help and too poor to pay equals, in this case, a death sentence. And how many other cases are out there and what does it say about us as a society that so many conservatives and Christianist idiots think that is fine so long as we don't get saddled with 'socialized medicine.'
We used to bask in the assurance that the coming generations would have a better life than the current generations. I don't think we can look at the future with such sanguine complacency. My mother has a far better situation than I do; but even that leaves a lot to be desired. Sarah Palin complained about the prospect she feared that 'government bureaucrats' might deny her Down's Syndrome son the care he needs but we are already faced with the reality that insurance bureaucrats can deny care. One of my mother's doctors prescribes a name brand medication because he has found that the generics formulations of that drug gives false readings on the blood tests. But the insurance company will not pay for the name brand and Mom is left footing the bill. But for Sarah and her allies that is fine.
I could go on and on. But I think you get my drift. We need health reform that will curb the costs of medical care. We need health care that is provided through a doctor's office not a hospital emergency room. We need health care that includes medical, vision and dental care that focuses on prevention and maintenance not on crisis management. We need a public option and screw the insurance companies' profits.