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Health Care 201: Off the Front Line, and Back to the Trail

Last week, I finally made it home. And for the first time in nearly two months, my dad can use his smartphone and eat takeout food again. We’re finally seeing the light at the end of our harrowing health care journey, and we’re no longer fearing that light is an oncoming speeding train.

However, just because our own health care headaches may finally be fading away doesn’t mean America’s larger health care problems are suddenly solved. No, we still have some unfinished business to settle.

Finally, he’s out of the hospital.
health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since my last update, we’ve experienced a major turning point. Earlier this month, my dad underwent open heart surgery at the third hospital. Then last Tuesday, he finally left the hospital for the outside world for the first time in over seven weeks.

On one hand, my dad moved to an outpatient rehabilitation center (aka a nursing home), a place that still qualifies as a regimented and controlled environment. However it’s not a hospital, so it still gave my dad a major culture shock during his first night there.

He pressed the button, but no nurse (or other staff) showed up. He moved around, and there were no guardrails on the bed. He missed dinner, so he just chowed down on the contents in the brown paper bag that a third hospital nurse packed for him. He was feeling freer, but he was also starting to feel something he hadn’t experienced in nearly two months. For the first time, if just for a few moments, he seemed to be on his own.

Believe it or not, our conversation on health care in America shouldn’t end with the “Medicare for All” debate.  
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once upon a time, the consideration and successful passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) were such a “big f–king deal”. But now, it’s just old news. President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are still dead-set on “repealing and replacing” the ACA with some kind of Mad Max style health care hellscape. Meanwhile, the Democrats who want to “repeal and replace” Trump in the White House spent multiple debates, sent countless press releases, stemwound at campaign rallies, and even cut TV ads arguing over “Medicare for Allsingle-payer health care.

As we’ve previously discussed around these parts, it’s good for us to have an honest conversation about this big proposal to radically transform our health care system, provided we’re actually honest with each other and sticking to facts (instead of cheap rhetoric). But as the argument over “Medicare for All” increasingly became this distorted p–sing match overflowing in cheap rhetoric, anything and everything health care related just became another excuse for politicians and pundits to swim in cheap rhetoric.

All too often, other health care policy talks have gotten lost amidst the cheap rhetoric surrounding the “Medicare for All” argument. Did you know U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) has a thorough plan on mental health care and substance abuse treatment, that Klobuchar and former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg have promised action to relieve working families of the immense financial burdens that often come with long-term care, or that U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has a bill to authorize the federal government to manufacture its own generic drugs that California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) may soon pursue at the state level?

No really, there’s way more to this health care conversation we need to have.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Let’s be real: Despite U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) promise to have his “Medicare for All” plan introduced in Congress on the first day of his presidency, it’s unlikely that America’s health care system will suddenly transform into a single-payer system like Canada’s, Australia’s, or Britain’s overnight some time next year. Yet at the same time, despite former Vice President Joe Biden’s continuing assertions that Obamacare was, is, and will always be the ultimate “big f–king deal”, the ACA didn’t instantly solve all our health care problems a decade ago.

As I and others in my family have had to learn the hard way over these past two months, just because my dad’s Medicare Advantage plan officially covers emergency treatment and hospital care doesn’t mean we haven’t had to present proof of insurance, ask hospital staff why he didn’t have his heart surgery yet, or double-(and sometimes triple-)check to ensure that my dad wouldn’t be left with the bills that his insurance is supposed to pay.

For the time being, my dad’s insurance is footing the bill for all his medical care and related needs. But every so often, I and a few others in the family investigate the costs of things like in-home assistance and mobility assisting devices, just in case we need to step in once the insurance company steps away. 

Shouldn’t we strive to do better?
health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

I know we’ve already been talking a lot about health care, but there’s so much more to this conversation than the usual “gotcha questions” at the presidential debates and pre-packaged talking points at Congressional press conferences. Yes, we’ve noticed House Democrats’ legislation to lower prescription drug costs, but how will we ensure everyone can get to the doctor who can write prescriptions for these drugs? Yes, we’ve repeatedly listened to Sanders and his promises that “Medicare for All” will cover all our health care needs, but how will he and his Congressional allies ensure that “Medicare for All” results in a less cumbersome hospital experience that prioritizes patient care over bureaucratic paperwork? 

And yes, we remember when President Donald Trump promised “insurance for everybody”. In the White House, Trump has attempted everything imaginable to engineer the reverse: For the first time in nearly a decade the rate of uninsured Americans grew in 2018, and Trump has championed the resurgence of “junk insurance” plans that do not offer the comprehensive coverage that’s required of ACA exchange plans and employer-offered plans. If my dad was on the kind of “junk insurance” plan that Trump and his allies promote as “lower-cost alternatives”, we’d almost certainly be filing our bankruptcy paperwork now.

Photo by Andrew Davey

As I’ve been complaining for the past two months, this entire “health care debate” on the campaign trail often feels so removed from reality. While certain politicians extol the values of “choice”, my dad’s choices have mostly been confined by his insurance company. While pundits quibble over “the winning argument on health care”, some of my dad’s doctors still bear the scars from their arguments with the insurance company over the second hospital’s failure to prepare for my dad’s surgery. And while a bunch of politicians and pundits have engaged in concern trolling over “cost”, we’ve taken notice as the hospitals and the rehab center have taken “creative measures” to “keep costs down”.

It’s one thing to view health care through the lens of legislative co-sponsor tallies, campaign messaging strategy, and the non-stop barrage of poll numbers. It’s an entirely different experience to navigate the health care system through the hospitals where we go when we’re most in need. I may now be out of the hospital (and the rehab center) and preparing to re-enter the campaign trail, but I’ll do my best to remember the lessons learned along that very different path.

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