Olivia Rosewood: Our Health Care System Does Not Need Fixing

Our health care system does not need fixing because fixing is what you do to something that once worked.

I happened to have the experience of my children needing extensive medical care for the first two years of their lives. In fact, my youngest continues to have special needs. They had 11 surgeries between the two of them and lengthy hospital stays, complicated recoveries, and lots and lots of medical bills. Did you know that the number one reason for chapter seven bankruptcy is an expensive medical issue?

Many Americans don’t learn the ins and outs of our medical system until their health starts to give them serious trouble in their sixties and seventies. But by then, there is not much time for them to change the entire system. They are usually preoccupied trying to survive it. I have had the privilege of learning a bit more a bit earlier in the game.

Here are some facts that I learned about small children and our existing health care system:

If they have pre-existing conditions, you generally cannot buy private medical insurance for them. What they say to you on the phone is, “That’s a decline.” That’s how they make it not-too-personal. But it is very personal when someone tells you there will be no medical insurance for your child. It is devastatingly personal.

So, like one of our surgeon’s assistants had to do (her son has asthma, so he was “a decline”), you’d better find a full time job that has group coverage for your child. If you had hoped to be a stay at home parent, you can still do that. But your child will be uninsured.

If your child has special needs, it will be difficult to find a nanny that you can afford, and most daycare centers will apologetically explain how full and busy they are. So caring for your child while you work your full time position to earn health insurance can be a major challenge. There are many catch 22’s involved with caring for a child with special needs, as I’m sure you know if you have one.

If you are lucky enough to barely be able to feed your family (you make under 22K per year for a family of four is the guideline in California), you might qualify for state medical assistance. However, if you are able to feed your family, you will not qualify for this assistance. But just because you are able to feed your family does not mean you can pay cash for doctor’s visits or emergencies.

So should you not have a full time job with group medical coverage, but you have enough money to feed your family, your child with a pre-existing condition may not have medical insurance. And that often means your child will be refused medical care. “How can that be?” You might demand indignantly. Rightfully so.

As Newsday reported, more that 18,000 people die each year because they don’t have medical insurance. Perhaps more.

For example, when my youngest daughter was 6 weeks old, I spent a full day on the phone manipulating people, pulling supervisors out of all day meetings, and otherwise being a very squeaky wheel because UCLA Medical Center called to cancel an important surgery. My daughter had granulation tissue (her insides) bulging through her cheek where it had become inflamed and then infected due to a side effect of a previous surgery. It required care.

The reason UCLA Medical Center was canceling the surgery so necessary and timely to remedy this problem? Our insurance had lapsed. But it hadn’t — it was a “mistake” made by our then insurance company, Blue Cross. But I had the eye opening experience of what it would be like to not have health insurance. I could hardly believe that such apathy toward a baby could exist in the United States. This is a place where people care about each other, isn’t it? It took me 8 solid hours of crying and urging the people at the other end of the line to reinstate our insurance and not cancel the surgery.

What would someone do who didn’t have these kinds of people skills? What would someone do who didn’t have the time to cajole several people into doing the right thing? What would have happened to that little 6 week old baby with an infection in her open cheek’s open wound? And what would someone do if their insurance had actually lapsed? Or they didn’t have it? I can only put the pieces together to figure it out.

Our health care system doesn’t need to be fixed, because it wasn’t working. Our health care system needs a complete systemic make over. Its priority needs to be good health, and not profits. Children must receive care, even if they have a pre-existing condition and are middle class.

And care must not be refused to the sick. Because we are all sick. There is not one of us here who is not dying. We are all simply dying at different rates. The people who need taking care of are all of us.

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