Friday, August 7, 2009

The Health Care Issue-From a Personal Perspective

Cross-posted by Gary Fouse

What is to become of them?

When I listen to the issues surrounding the health care debate, I look back at the last eight years of my mother's life and how the system dealt with her. I think her experience with the health care system is relevant to today's arguments.

My mother died this past May from complications due to pneumonia. She was 88. Her death ended eight years of chronic illness and suffering. Prior to December 2001, my mother was leading a healthy and independent life in North Carolina. That all ended when she suffered a sudden stroke.

As soon as the stroke happened, I flew to Greensboro, North Carolina, where she was hospitalized. The stroke had hit the left side of her brain leaving her right side greatly impaired. For five weeks, she remained in the hospital as doctors dealt with a host of side issues. Along the way, she received physical and speech therapy, and I was given training how to assist a person who was wheel-chair bound-as she now was.

As far as her insurance was concerned, she had Medicare, as well as a secondary insurance company that she got as part of her employment when she was working. There were some co-pays, but nothing that was too expensive. (I took over all of her financial and legal affairs).

After her release from the hospital, it was agreed that since she could no longer live alone, my wife and I would take her back home with us to California. For the next three years, Mom lived at home with us in various states of wellness or sickness. Generally, it was one medical issue after another. By now, she was able to get around in a walker, but her life had changed so drastically.

After three years, my wife and I decided that we could no longer give Mom the amount of care she required. We decided on a board and care home in the area. These are single-family homes, privately run, with room for about 6 residents. The care-givers are usually not licensed nurses, but the patients don't require constant nursing care. They are a cheaper alternative to a nursing home and usually more pleasant as well. They are generally not covered by insurance, so they are out-of-pocket. My wife and I helped share the expense of the board and care.

There were several occasions when my mother had to go into the hospital, after which she was entitled to go to a skilled nursing facility for 2-4 weeks for rehabilitation. Between Medicare and her secondary insurance, everything was covered. Over the years, there were also MRIs, cat scans and doctor visits on a constant basis. When she was about 85, she had a pacemaker inserted. She also had laser eye surgery. Her numerous prescription drugs involved some out of pocket expense, but most of the cost was covered.

In the next few years, Mom's savings dwindled (she was living on Social Security and her investments). It was the board and care cost that was the biggest expense. At a certain point, she qualified for MediCal, the California branch of Medicaid. Once I got her enlisted in MediCal, virtually everything was covered-even dental.

I think that during those eight years, I gained quite an insight into the life of the sick and elderly. It is not a pretty picture. We saw many of my Mom's housemates pass away and shared their families' grief. It is all too clear to me that the bulk of medical costs are spent in the last years of life.

What I am coming to is this: In my mother's case, the system worked pretty well (with the exception of the California dental plan system). With Medicare, for all its failings, they served my mother well as did her secondary health insurance. My mother never went broke from out-of pocket medical expenses or prescription drugs. I know what I am talking about because I handled everything for her.

I can't help wondering how this new government plan would have served my mother. Would she have received MRIs, cat scans and a pacemaker? Or would she have been told to "take a pill instead of having the operation", as President Obama himself suggested. As it was, my mother never had an operation because she didn't want one, nor would she probably have survived one. But it was never a case of somebody else deciding it was not cost effective. And on the last day of her life, it was she who made the decision to let go. It was her call, not the call of some bureaucrat.

So was it cost effective to give Mom a pacemaker? Probably not. Nor was it probably cost effective to give her an MRI or a cat scan. But when we, as a society or as a government, start making those determinations, we lose our soul as a people. At that point, we are on the road to euthanasia, which is what they are doing today in The Netherlands. It is also what the Nazis did in the late 1930s with their mentally ill and handicapped people, whom they dubbed, "useless eaters" and "life unworthy of life". This they did before they ever sent the first Jew into a gas chamber. This pre-dated the Holocaust.

The present health care system may, indeed, need reform as well as health care insurance. I, however, am not willing to throw away the system that my mother lived under for this great unknown that is buried in over 1,000 pages of the Obama health plan.

When you look at the scenes of angry people at these town hall meetings, you notice that they are not young troublemakers. They are middle-aged and elderly. They know what is at stake for them personally. That is why they are so emotional. Our government should be listening to them instead of calling them, "thugs".


  1. Hi, Rardarsite,
    I had to copy/paste your very touching commentary into a text editor to read it. The black background and white text hurt my eyes. Just FYI

  2. Thank you Anonymous. I'll see what I can do. Thanks for visiting.