Sunday, October 25, 2009

Healthcare Math 101

Al Franken (Senator – Democrat – MN) is a breath of fresh air. He blows it all over the U.S. Senate Judiicary Committee yesterday.

It seems like medical bankruptcies in the USA are occurring in unprecedented numbers and Mr. Franken is asking some brutal questions in his concern for the unfortunate victims.

People like this woman going into bankruptcy because of her dead son’s medical bills, (he died of cystic fibrosis at 4-1/2) incurring 5 million dollars in debt, losing their home and couldn’t afford even the fee for bankruptcy:

Kerry Burns described to senators the 13-month illness of her son, Finnegan, who died in a Washington hospital last March at the age of 4½. Burns and her husband, Patrick, had taken leaves from their jobs in order to be at the boy’s side through several surgeries at three hospitals, living on disability and unemployment pay and falling so far behind on their bills that they could not recover financially.

“The emotional hardship my husband and I endured over the course of our son’s hospitalization pales in comparison to what we have felt since his loss,” Burns said, referring to their “financial ruin,” as she called it, and the humbling experience of filing for bankruptcy.

In particular, Burns singled out the bankruptcy system’s requirement that she and her husband take a computerized class in credit counseling. It was “sort of a slap in the face.” The Burnses said they felt insulted by the tone the class, which included questions “about why we were going bankrupt and how we could have avoided the situation in which we currently find ourselves.”

This seems totally alien to those of us living in countries which have universal health care: Like the other day, I receive in the mail from my provincial government an unexpected drug card. Yes, because I’m a senior, I’m entitled to free prescription drugs along with my free medical care. Just show my card at the pharmacy. Any pharmacy. I'm not under review by the death panel yet, obviously.

And for an etcetera: there’s a little sheet telling me to be sure to stock up on my free drugs if I plan to take an extended trip outside of Canada. This must seem like fables from another planet to those living in the USA,”Land of the Free for Nobody-at-all”.

Mr. Franken goes on to question Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth when she insists that those countries with universal health care also have citizens who declare medical bankrupticy:

FRANKEN: I think we disagree on whether health care reform, the health care reform that we’re talking about in Congress now should pass. You said that the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies. I want to ask you, how many medical bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I can find out and get back to you.
FRANKEN: I can tell you how many it was. It’s zero. Do you know how many medical bankruptcies there were last year in France?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number, but I can get back to you if I like.
FRANKEN: Yeah, the number is zero. Do you know how many were in Germany?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: From the trend of your questions, I’m assuming the number is zero. But I don’t know the precise number and would have to get back to you.
FRANKEN: Well, you’re very good. Very fast. The point is, I think we need to go in that direction, not the opposite direction. Thank you.

The fact that all this is being debated, in the year 2009, is an absolute travesty and symptomatic of a corporatocracy gone wild.

And will it be fixed? There may be some minnows thrown to the great unwashed, but when a victim of wife-battering or rape is deemed to have a "pre-existing condition" and is denied basic health care, is there any real hope at all?

And U.S. "Medical Exiles" here in Canada are now becoming visible (and more outspoken).
Kathleen Kelly is an American who married a Canadian. They now live on Bowen Island in British Columbia with their six-year-old son. It sounds idyllic. The trouble is, she'd like to have the ability to go home -- to California. But she says she can't because of her son's health. And in her view, that makes her a medical exile.


  1. Excellent piece, WWW!

    I mourn my lost NHS, and feel my blood pressure rise every time those ignorant of socialised medical care dare to criticise it.

    I can't guess which way the thing is going to go in the USA when it comes to the final vote in congress. Whichever way, though, even at best it'll be nowhere near as good as Canada's, Britain's or France's system. A small improvement will help though.

    I just hope they don't decide for a states' option, giving states the choice of opting out of any public option (similar to Medicare).
    The idiocy of that would be the red states, such as ours, would opt out, when they have so many, many poor people who badly need this help.

    Why should states be allowed to opt out of something like this, for feck's sake?

  2. Good for Kerry Burns and Al Franken. I hope their arguments manage to percolate some of the obtuse brains in the no-change camp. If you ask me, Diana Furchtgott-Roth is the one with the pre-existing medical condition. A severely disabling one....

  3. It is a crime, T, I totally sympathize with the plights of so many US citizens. it should be their right to have health care, it should not be up for debate.
    it is evil to profit off the despair of another human being. Not to mention the 1 million dying every year in the US because of the lack of something so basic.

  4. Nick:
    The ugly truth of course is that the profitable insurance companies have bought and paid for so many legislators in the US. Including Obama.

  5. Anyone who reads Sparrow Chat is well aware of my views on this subject. Like Twilight, I mourn my NHS. The artery stent operation I had last year cost me nearly four thousand dollars - after BlueCross BlueShield had paid "their share". In Britain it would not have cost me a penny.
    It would seem America needs more professional comedians like Franken in Congress, and less of the amateur sort, who masquerade as politicians - and "institute fellows" with fancy double-barreled names.

  6. RJA:
    Good comedians are gifted with above average awareness and intelligence. I think Jon Stewart would be an amazing asset to congress or senate.
    Franken is a light in a remarkably dark era for the US.

  7. that's our senator! he's funny, yes, but he's also a very serious policy wonk. deeply concerned. and finally seated after the longest senate recount in history.

  8. "Medical exiles"? That makes me dream, dream of escaping the ruin my next illness will bring = = I quietly approach an unsuspecting Canadian up north somewhere close to the border. I reach out to touch her very lightly on the shoulder. I get her attention, and then I whisper, " Asylum, please. Asylum. " Of course, it's only a dream. Such a thing cannot be offered, cannot even be earned. But how many, I wonder, would not die prematurely if it could?

    -- dreaming


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