Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Healthcare Reform

Today is going to be both a crazy and long day, so I figured, why not use the time to blog? My dad is having surgery on his eye today (it’s outpatient surgery, so while I am worried, I’m optimistic he’ll be okay when I see him this afternoon), which means lots of waiting time, and while watching episodes of Firefly and Stargate: Atlantis on my computer is normally enough to keep me occupied, writing is an activity which makes the time pass just a bit faster for me. That, along with the ten cups of coffee I’m sure to consume, makes me think I can at the very least write coherently. It’s actually a rather fitting setting for the issue I’m going to discuss: Health Care Reform.

What makes the health care reform bill so person to me is that I have Epilepsy. Luckily, my Epilepsy is very well controlled (I’ve only had five seizures in my entire life, and I’ve been seizure-free for over two years now). However, what allows me to control my Epilepsy so well is my medication… and the medication I take costs a whopping $400 for a 30 day supply without insurance. I was covered under my father’s health insurance policy, but with my being 24 and not in school right now, I was kicked off the insurance policy. Coupled with the fact that my health benefits cannot kick in until six months from now with my current job, in many ways leaves me S.O.L. as far as insurance goes. It was only because I had access to great doctors that I eventually learned of a way to supplement my medication needs until I get insurance benefits from my current job or get a job in which the insurance benefits kick in immediately.

Despite my abilities to meet my medication needs temporarily, I have always wondered, ‘What if I had not had access to a doctor who showed me this stuff?’ According to NewsWeek’s wonderful coverage of Epilepsy in their April 2009 issue (http://www.newsweek.com/2009/04/10/a-storm-in-the-brain.html), Epilepsy affects just as many people as Breast Cancer, yet it receives nowhere near the same degree of funding for research.

And the stakes for an individual who has Epilepsy are even higher, as in Georgia, at the very least, a person cannot drive until they have been seizure-free for at least six months. In such a case when you already don’t have medical insurance because you don’t have a job, if you would like to remedy the situation by going out and finding a job, due to the fact that you didn’t have access to medication, you have had a seizure. Such a person would no longer have the ability to drive to a job interview in order to get the job which might eventually provide the health care that this person needs. This creates a vicious cycle, and it’s one which should not exist in an industrialized nation such as the United States. In addition, this is one more person added to the currently-high unemployment rate, which is not only bad as a general principle, but is not a great political record for any politician running for re-election.

What about Medicaid? Well, in my case (which is actually rather common) because I currently own a computer, own a car, have a job (even though I don’t nearly make enough to cover my medication), etc., I cannot qualify for Medicaid. I’m lucky to have my parents to help me out, and for that I am always incredibly grateful, but not everyone has the family support which I am incredibly lucky to have. In addition, of all the applications which are processed, only an estimated 30% are approved.

What’s also terribly alarming is the idea that children have to go through life without having this health care which is desperately needed. With this bill, parents of all socio-economic backgrounds will be able to afford to take their kids for regular check-ups. Currently, people who have limited medical resources only go to doctors as needed when there’s a problem. If this bill encourages regular check-ups for everyone, problems can be either solved or treated at a far less severe state—which would in turn be less expensive for both the family and the state. Additionally, many people who currently do not have insurance go to the emergency room for many minor issues which would be much more appropriate to address in a primary care physician’s office. The argument is very well summed up in this article.

It’s hard to turn on any news channel without hearing the word “socialism” combined with the concept of health care reform (*cough* Fox News *cough*). First of all, this is not the only example of a public policy which has been characterized as “socialist” in previous years. One of the most blatant examples is the public education system. While public education is not perfect, it is seen as an incredibly important aspect of the “American Dream,” as it provides a way for the impoverished child to choose to break the cycle of poverty and make something out of themselves, just as other children of privilege do. It is now seen as a simple necessity through which many great minds have emerged—without public schools, would we have made it to the moon? Would we even have the computers through which you are currently reading my public ramblings? Maybe in 50-100 years, we as a society will look back at this and understand it as just as much of a need as public education? Is public education perfect—no. Then again, that’s another blog post within itself. Maybe later.

Another thing to consider is the whole idea of socialism. I am NOT a socialist. But guess what? There are very few people in the world who are entirely socialists or entirely capitalists. Socialism is defined as an economic and social system in which government is in charge of distribution and allocation of resources based on the needs of the society as a whole. In theory (as in, a utopian world with unicorns and magical fairies), this would make poverty a thing of the past by treating everyone equally. However, this is not necessarily the case as there are those who naturally are talented toward a more need-driven field such as medicine who would be compensated for their efforts far more than a factory worker due to the difficulty of the task and the amount of time required for such an occupation.

On the other hand, we have capitalism where most aspects of a society are privately owned. Capitalism is a system which focuses on the principles of supply and demand and very little government regulation. This system is great in that it recognizes human nature and uses it to its greatest advantage. Unfortunately, human nature is also this systems worst enemy as human greed creates a great divide in society where socio-economic classes develop and directly as well as indirectly create a bias toward an individual's growth into a higher class.

So, what's the point of this Economics 101 review? Examples of both philosophies exist in the world, BUT they are not necessarily one or the other. The United States for instance is known as a country that is mostly capitalist with a little bit of socialism. On the other hand, European countries such as France are considered socialist with a little bit of capitalism. Part of using political philosophy to its greatest advantage is having a clear understanding of the pros and cons of each existing philosophy and finding a way to strike a balance which utilizes the pros of each philosophy and minimizes the cons. We cannot continue to think of ourselves in black and white terms: Socialist or Capitalist.

We have to find a balance in our society, and at this moment in time capitalism has created an industry of health insurers, which is to it's credit, is not without good intentions, but in applying the principle of supply and demand to the most basic of needs (healthcare), we have created a system which in people are unfairly pushed to the side and their medical needs are ignored based on their current socio-economic status. This to me, is a system which is in need of revision, and to shy away from such change due to our own prejudices toward one particular political philosophy is narrow-minded and short-sighted. From what has been discussed as well, the new healthcare policy would not include complete government cantrol over healthcare. Those who want to continue to hold their current policies would be allowed to keep those policies, what is being offered is simply a government or public option.

NOTE: This was actually written about a month ago. It’s taken me this long to think about it and get as much down as I can, which I assure you, I have more I could say (not to mention, I don’t think you’d want to endure more of my ramblings). My dad came out the surgery beautifully. He is still recovering, but the doctor did one Hell of a job and he is seeing progressively better out of his eye. My family and I are very grateful for this doctor, and especially for our ability to have access to such a great resource through great health coverage. It’s a privilege which should be considered a right, and I hope that some way and somehow, any family in need finds a way to get the medical help they need.