By Jeff Block
My wife Debbie is a brain cancer survivor. She was stricken on the day following our fifth wedding anniversary, an event we celebrated with much excitement and gusto. Our lives were happy, filled with love of each other and with the expectation that all would continue. We had no inkling of how all that could change in a moment.
Our story, although sad, is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of American families are faced with the prospect of dealing with long-term catastrophic illnesses every year. You may feel that you are ready to handle this crisis, should it happen to your family. You probably aren’t, and here’s why.
First of all, that health insurance provided by your employer … forget it! If you miss any work (and a serious illness means that you will miss work), your rates will rise astronomically, as you will be placed in a high-risk category. Debbie’s rates tripled. You will be obligated to pay these new rates, or you will be refused service by almost all hospitals and doctors (other than for emergency life-saving care).
Secondly, you must be prepared for confrontations with your insurance carrier over almost every treatment option that your doctor prescribes. The purpose of insurance companies is to make profit, and there is no profit in paying out claims. The law and current government regulation obligates insurance companies to provide treatment as recommended by your physician, but you can expect the companies to balk and exert pressure on your doctor to modify the treatments to something less expensive.
The efficacy of the treatment is not important to the insurers. Remember, their concern is the profit margin of their company, not the health and well-being of a patient. Several times I was forced to confront the insurance folks with their denial of treatment and to have our doctors waste their valuable time to ensure that the companies honor their commitment to provide prescribed care for Debbie. She would have died without the remedies recommended by the oncologists, and it is shameful that those doctors were forced into defending their work to bean-counters with no medical training. If you are single, with no one to advocate on your behalf, the chances of your dying from lack of proper treatment go way up.
Should your illness become so debilitating that you must abandon work totally, your only option is to obtain costly COBRA insurance, a government-subsidized program which will bridge the two-year gap required to receive disability and Medicare benefits. These two are also government-supported programs, and here is the crux of the issue. The current crop of congressmen and -women seem determined to cut these programs and to further privatize (that is, raid and steal) the large pool of cash set aside for these programs which has been paid for by the workers of America.
I urge you to stand strong for those programs that have proven their merit in maintaining the lives of sick and ill Americans. I warn you from bitter experience that you may not think you need the benefits and that you may very well resent the percentage of your paycheck that goes to support these programs. I can tell you with certainty that without the government’s involvement that you, your wife, your parents, or your children will very likely die from lack of competent care when you will need it most.
Many other countries, including our neighbors in Canada, provide full health care to their citizens as a basic right of their citizenship, and their societies have not dissolved from the supposed economic strain. In fact, several countries have now surpassed the United States in basics such as life expectancy and in lowering the percentage of deaths in childbirth. How can we continue to be a world leader if the health of our own citizens is not our first concern?
I am an American, and I love my country, but I am saddened that in the realm of providing health-care services for our citizens, we have allowed the greed and profit motives of non-medical personnel to influence and overcome the concern for our neighbors that is the cornerstone of the American heart and spirit.
Jeff Block lives with his wife Debbie in Valle Crucis, N.C., and is the author of “Nine Years After,” the true account of his wife’s decade-long struggle with brain cancer. Here is the link to his book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005CB8E3W