“There is no more glaring example today of what ails our society than the broken and deteriorating healthcare system… This system is well on its way to collapse, and we are all bearing the brunt of its failure.”
-- John Garamendi, Insurance Commissioner, California
And what do these beautiful young men and women come home to? Right here, in the country that sent them off to battle on probably false premises? They face a crumbling health care system that is virtually bankrupt, cuts in benefits and with definitions of “disabled,” “PTSD”, etc. getting more narrowly defined. Many vets are waiting months just to get in to see a doctor and approximately 70,000 soldiers with PTSD are having their cases “reviewed” because of cutbacks in VA benefits. They are the never-ending soldiers who will continue the battle, not in some far off country, but right here at home.
This is much the same struggle and war my daughter and I have faced for the last 11 years. My daughter is also a never-ending soldier. Her battle raged for years and still continues. We are the never-ending soldiers in the War on Cancer and in dealing with the health care system. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1994 at 19, she had a bone marrow transplant and a long, extremely difficult recovery. Contrary to the medical evidence that she has various and irreversible ailments because of the “treatment,” she has been taken of Disability because she no longer has leukemia. She has lost disability benefits, all medical insurance (Medicare) and has no prescription coverage. It is heartbreaking that thousands of young people coming home from the service now will be soldiers in the war here at home.
Returning soldiers are seeing cuts to funding for Medicaid, medical benefits, long-term care and medical services for children. The Institute of Medicine estimates that lack of health insurance causes approximately 18,000 deaths per year. We are the only industrialized country to deny its citizens health care. Health care premiums have gone up 36% and the number of Americans without health care coverage grows daily. There are nearly 44 million Americans who are uninsured -- 4 million more than when George Bush took office -- and there are millions more who are under-insured. Many of the people who have no coverage will die. Others will suffer medical emergencies that will leave them disabled. Seniors can’t afford medicine and have discovered that last year’s Medicare law is a sham that provides billions to insurance and drug companies. 32,000 National Guard members and reservists who are serving in Iraq will lose their health coverage when they come home because the Bush Administration refuses to extend their coverage.
At the same time, there is a bill in Congress that will probably pass, setting caps on “pain and suffering.” The new bankruptcy law that goes into effect in October will make it virtually impossible to file bankruptcy, when most Americans are struggling with lower wages and higher health care premiums. While there is a medical malpractice insurance cost problem that's severe for certain providers, it's a small part of the health care cost crisis overall. A major crisis is that there is an estimated 98,000 deaths each year in hospitals attributable to mistakes. I witnessed this first-hand because of my daughter’s illness. There is no doubt that she is alive today because I literally stayed awake for years during her many medical emergencies and re-hospitalizations.
The bad news on the US health care system keeps coming. The non-profit organization Families USA just released a study showing health insurance premiums are rising at a level three times that of wage gains over the last four years. This contributes to a steady rise in the number of Americans without health insurance at all. A recent study by the prestigious Kaiser Foundation showed serious erosion in employer-based health coverage. This is the primary source of health insurance for middle-class families that don't qualify for public programs. The Foundation also estimates that in 2004 there were at least five million fewer jobs with health insurance than in 2001. There's also direct evidence that identical procedures cost far more in the US than in other advanced countries. A 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administrative costs took 31 cents out of every dollar the U. S. spent on health care, compared with only 17 cents in Canada. And quietly, under the radar, bit-by-bit, Medicare patients are seeing cuts in benefits, treatment options and ever skyrocketing costs of medication.
To add insult to terrible injury, we are sending billions of dollars to Iraq for roads, schools and building what appear to be permanent bases there. At the same time, billions of dollars are being cut here at home for education, environmental protection, medical research, Head Start, and nutrition programs for pregnant women and children. We’ve turned our children into unthinking killing machines who will come home full of depleted uranium, so broken in heart, mind and body, they will possibly be as unrecognizable as my daughter has become to me because of the devastating effects of her “treatment.” Is this what our young people sacrificed for? To be discarded afterward? The message here is “You’re on your own.” Is this how the richest country in the world treats its heroes, heroines and the most vulnerable in society?
Every American should be provided with the opportunity to choose from the same health care options, at the same price, as members of Congress. If it’s good enough for those in government, it ought to be an option for every American. There also needs to be an honest prescription drug policy that doesn’t funnel billions of dollars to drug companies and HMOs. The United States has the most privatized, competitive health system of the Western industrialized nations. It also has, by far, the highest costs, and close to the worst results
It is imperative that all Americans WAKE UP and exercise our inalienable rights as human beings to THINK and it doesn’t endanger our troops and is not “unpatriotic” or “unsupportive” to ask questions about policy decisions that might save lives. All service people who have fought in every war; the most “vulnerable” in society; all human beings deserve the most basic right to safe, affordable health care. I don’t separate what happens in my personal life from what happens in the world in general. I believe we are all woven from the same fabric . . . what happens to one, happens to all. A child suffering is ALL of our children suffering. If one person dies because of lack of health care, it is ALL of our deaths.
Isn’t it time to “beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks . . . nor train for war anymore? As Desmond Tutu said, human beings have great potential . . . the potential for great evil and the potential for great love and compassion. It is up to each of us to choose. Like ripples in a pond, every act of kindness stirs the waters, as does every act of cruelty, arrogance and stupidity. What kind of ripple do you want to make? As Tutu said, which of our capacities will we focus on? What world do we want for our children, their children and ourselves? The future is in our hands.
Madeline Goldstein is a published writer, community outreach volunteer, and was publisher and founder of Against The Odds, a local publication for single mothers. She was the primary caregiver of her daughter for eight years and wrote a "Caregiver's Guide" that was circulated throughout Chicagoland. © 2005 by Madeline Goldstein