Thursday, January 14, 2010

Health care reform: a study of one

The current national debate on health care reform stirs up emotions while provoking heated argument even among friends.  Just listen at about any water cooler in offices around town.  Or, bring up the topic during coffee time before Sunday School next week and see what breaks out! 

Most of us enjoy the luxury of debate, hopefully friendly. 

For some individuals and their families the debate is anything but theoretical or abstract.  Think for a moment.  I expect you have a story or know someone with a story that moves quickly toward the harsh realities associated with no easy access to health care when most needed.  Often we hear horror stories about how we'll all be forced to wait for treatement if health care reform passes the Congress.  The fact is, millions wait today thanks to our current system that leaves almost 50 million Americans without access to comprehensive care. 

A few days ago, Dallas Morning News' columnist, Steve Blow reported the tragic story of  Xavier Ramirez.  I'm grateful to Blow for bringing reality into our theoretical arguments.  For me, Xavier's story settles the issue and ends the debate.  We need reform and we need reform now. 

I've published the entire story below.  Take a moment to read it and let me know what you think.

Fort Worth tragedy underscores dire health care situation
January 3, 2010

In all the talk of politics and policy, we sometimes forget why a health-care overhaul is needed in the first place.

But Xavier Ramirez should remind us.

The morning after Christmas, the 17-year-old student's body was found on the running track at his Fort Worth high school.

He had been doing his family's wash at a nearby coin laundry. While the clothing washed, he apparently went for a jog on the track, collapsed and died.

News stories mostly focused on the outpouring of young grief for the well-liked, much-admired young man.

But there's another angle that deserved more attention.

It may be too strong to say that Xavier died from lack of health insurance. But it's certainly why he never got the heart exams he needed.

In the fifth game of his high school football season, near the end of the third quarter, Xavier asked to come out of the game.

Paschal High School coach Matt Cook said that was highly unusual. Xavier was one of the most dedicated, hardworking players on the team.

"He said he had taken a hit in the chest and was having a hard time catching his breath," Cook recalled.

Xavier's heart was racing even when the game ended. A trainer insisted they go to the hospital emergency room to check it out.

Doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital performed a few tests on Xavier. They discharged him that night with instructions to get follow-up cardiac testing.

And that's when Maria Martinez discovered that she had no health insurance on her son.

He had been covered under the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. But Martinez learned that she no longer qualified. Her income was just dollars over the limit.

Martinez works at a company that manufactures plastic bags. When she tried to get Xavier on the insurance there, she was told he couldn't join outside the enrollment period.

It's possible the pre-existing heart condition wouldn't have qualified for coverage anyway.

Martinez worried endlessly about her son's heart. She was desperate to get the tests done.

Xavier, on the other hand, was sure he was healthy. He wanted the medical tests just to clear him for a return to sports.

Trying to satisfy both mother and son, Coach Cook began looking for a solution.

The local children's hospital said it would begin the tests if the family could pay $3,000 in cash up front.

It might as well have been $1 million. Martinez is a single mother. Both Xavier and his older brother worked after-school jobs to support the family.

On the advice of a doctor friend, Cook was helping the family write a letter of appeal for free care at the county hospital.

They were still working on that when Xavier's heart apparently failed as he circled the track.

For those of us blessed with good health and good insurance, it's easy to be cynical about health-care legislation.

The need is more apparent to others. Like the mother who can barely speak through her weeping. And the coach who lost a model student and athlete.

"I'm really upset that he didn't get the care he needed," Cook said.

Xavier's family couldn't come up with $3,000 for the needed tests. But in the wake of his death, friends quickly raised $8,500 for his funeral.

And somehow, for Cook, that makes it even worse.

"It's mind-boggling that we can raise $8,500 to put somebody in the ground, but coming up with $3,000 to save somebody's life ..."

He paused, searching for words.

"I'm sick to my stomach," Cook said.

[For a direct link to Steve Blow's story click here.]


Anonymous said...

Totally agree that we need reform to make sure this type of tragedy does not occur. Unfortunately, once again, congress has failed to to address the real problem. Why do we have the ability to respond quickly to tragedies such as Haiti, but cannot address problems that affect millions in our own country without making it a politcal power struggle?

John said...

Thank you for posting the story. We need to hear stories of real people rather than abstract ideas!

Chris said...

In the middle of a crisis, how can someone suddenly "discover" they have no health insurance?

I agree we need reform, but we were promised it would be an open debate. Instead we were totally lied to. Few lawmakers have read any of the various health care bills and I doubt they understand it if they did.

One example of how bad both the Senate and House bills are is that they would provide financial incentives to subsidize marriage avoidance. it has been proved that marriage is the best remedy for poverty. Federal welfare programs discriminate against marriage and instead give taxpayer handouts to those who reject marriage.

Yes we need reform but we need to do it right.

Anonymous said...

Hi -

This is a sad tragedy, and it sounds like his mom did everything that she knew possible.

I must add, that, it is still very possible that he would have died had he been under a nationalized health care plan plan like the one in Canada.

He would have been on waiting list, and it would have taken anywhere between 6 months and 18 months to see a specialist. In some cases, it could have taken up to 10 years. In fact, in most areas in Canada it is a six month wait for an MRI. Surgeries such as a gall bladder removal can take years to happen until you make it to the top of the waiting list.

That is why so many Canadians come to the US for health care.

There just isn't enough doctors to treat everyone! (Just think about it!)

But that being said, I still think he should have gotten the treatment he needed. I really feel for his mom and family.

Anonymous said...

Correction -----> It would have taken up to TWO years, not TEN. Oops.

Larry James said...

Anon 4:47, sorry, but in the case of this young man with accute issues the Canadian wait would not have been as you suggest. Had he presented at ER in Canada he would have been hospitalized immediately and treated, as would have been the case in the US had he had insurance. Under our system his wait turned out to be a lifetime, so why bash Canada?

Chris said...

Had he required cardiac surgery in Windsor, Ontario he would have been whisked through the Windsor Tunnel to the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

SEO対策 said...

No matter anywhere, anytime, the health is the most important in my mind, so the health care feform, health insurance must be paid more attention on!

Expect those persons who don't want have a comfortable and colorful life.

Larry James said...

Chris, if that is the deal that Canada worked out--as is true in the states among providers--then my point remains. Canada paid and the boy would have lived. Because he wasn't in Canada, he didn't get what he needed.

Anonymous said...

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