Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here’s To Your Health

When mumps hit our family it hit us hard. Fortunately it was a “rolling hit”. It would have been worse if we had all come down at the same time. But except for Dad, who must have carried some immunity over from his childhood, all four kids and Mom were down over a three or four week period. I don’t recall any particular treatment except to stay in bed as much as possible and wait for the symptoms to subside. I remember craving (and consuming) mayonnaise sandwiches.

We did have medical care, though, even in the midst of the Depression. Not universal health care; certainly not government sponsored health care. We had, instead, home visits from Dr. Pugh, the local mayor and one of several local doctors. I don’t think he charged us anything for his services, and if he left any medications I don’t recall taking them, but I recall that he left a small stack of pennies each for the two youngest of us siblings. My parents would prefer to have paid their own way but the family budget barely covered food, clothing, and housing. They gratefully accepted the charity of the good doctor.

Dr. Pugh was later to receive national notoriety for his combined gambling, philandering, political, and medical careers. Walter Winchell, the national gossip/news commentator honored him with an attack, mis-pronouncing Pugh as “Pug” rather than “Pew”. It is possible that Winchell’s “endorsement” was a boon to the good doctor; he easily won re-election as mayor and was never bothered by local officials regarding his gambling exploits.

I thought of my childhood “healthcare system” today after a nurse described for me the plight of poor people in our city who line up each evening at a Free Clinic to receive whatever medical care (and drugs) are provided by the volunteers (nurses and doctors) who staff the clinic. It reminded me that we have not progressed very far toward providing easily obtained healthcare for our poor and indigent citizens in the seventy years since Dr. Pugh visited our home.

She told of a working man with severe heart problems who had lost access to Wisconsin’s Badger Care coverage because his dependent daughter had reached the age of nineteen and the family no longer qualified for coverage. Except for the charity of Sacred Heart Hospital and the volunteers at the Free Clinic he, and presumably scores more in our community, have no help for their problems. It isn’t clear that he, or the others, can piece together the drugs and treatments needed to maintain their health. And it isn’t known how many others have concluded that it makes no sense to even try to seek such help.

We’ve had a two-year long battle in this country over a newly enacted health care program that those in opposition (very likely without remotely understanding it) characterize as “Obamacare,” spoken with as much vituperation as they can express. Just this month news is out that health insurance premiums have risen over 10% in the last year, allowing Insurance companies to insure their profits before the new law goes fully into effect, and making healthcare insurance unaffordable to thousands who had been barely holding on to their coverage. And still there are those who support repeal of the meager plan recently enacted.

History judges every generation, and this generation should stand or fall before that judge, not by the success of our sports teams, the number of SUV’s, boats, campers, and RVs in our driveways, the number of restaurant meals, and the class of restaurant, we’ve enjoyed, the dollars spent on our children’s weddings, the millions we’ve spent on political campaigns, or even the magnificence of the churches, stadiums, and high-rises we’ve built, but rather on how we provided for the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

It is hard to know in advance the fate of “Obamacare.” It is not the plan that the President initially wanted. Those who wished to keep the status quo fought to gut it of much that would have made it a better plan. It never sought to be “universal” as many believed it should have been. But it promises to expand the number of people who can access healthcare without subjecting themselves to the humiliation of beggary. It deserves a chance to prove its worth.

By labeling the new healthcare program “Obamacare” those who oppose it (and oppose the President) hope to stigmatize both the President and the plan. We can only hope that, fifty years from now, it will be a source of pride to the President’s descendents that their father’s name is associated with a successful effort to improve the health of the nation.

It is understandable that some would oppose the new healthcare law. We will never agree completely on anything. It is conceivable that there is a better solution to our inadequate healthcare situation. But those attacking the President’s plan have offered no substantive alternative beyond: 1) insisting that tort reform would reduce unwarranted medical lawsuits and dramatically lower doctor’s fees for service, and 2) suggesting that the free market should continue to determine who will get coverage and at what price. That is a description of the broken system we have. Those who oppose the new law need to show us a better way, or get out of the way, and give “Obamacare” a chance to succeed.

Better yet, those who defend the status quo, and oppose “Obamacare” should volunteer one evening a week at their local Free Medical Clinic or, if their community doesn’t have a free clinic, they should start one. Or perhaps they could pay the premiums for a family healthcare policy for someone they know who can’t afford it. If enough people did these things it wouldn’t be long before there was a groundswell of support for universal healthcare coverage in our country.

Here’s to your health!

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