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.]