Don’t forget that health reform is about people, not politics

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Dedicated to affordable, quality healthcare and coverage for all Americans.

By Consumers Union on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

When something as personal as your health gets reduced to politics, it’s easy to see how Washington – and a lot of Americans – can lose sight of what healthcare really means to those who struggle each day just trying to get it.

To make sure we don’t lose sight, Consumers Union brought several of our activists to Washington this week to tell House leaders – and the national media – what it is like when you get sick and you don’t have quality insurance like members of Congress have.

These aren’t folks that are trying to scam the system, or dodge paying their fare share for health coverage, or put off taking care of themselves. These are people with jobs and families who tried to do the right thing and buy insurance policies they could afford, or find jobs with insurance – but still found themselves in massive debt because of shoddy coverage or huge loopholes in the system.

They include Molly Secours of Nashville, Tenn. (second from left) a freelance filmmaker who was young and healthy and bought an affordable, high-deductible health insurance in case of a catastrophe, or “I get hit by a bus,” as she described it to Congressional Quarterly, which reported on Wednesday’s news conference in the Capitol.

“Two years ago last month, I got hit by the bus. I heard those three most terrifying words that you can hear in America, ‘You have cancer,” said Secours, who was diagnosed with stage IV uterine cancer and ended up with $25,000 in medical bills. “When you hear those words it’s like stepping out of the shower into outer space.” Her first thought, she said, was, “I can’t afford this.”

A key component in the health reform bill would cap what patients like Molly have to pay out-of-pocket when covered by insurance, so they know exactly how much they will owe, and when they will owe it. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the reform bill:

“Consumers will have more choices, so they can find plans without waiting periods and high deductibles. There will be an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses and no lifetime limits on care. There will be no more co-pays or deductibles for preventive care that can catch devastating illnesses in time.”

Having that bill as our law would have been a godsend to San Francisco resident Catherine Howard, (far left in photo) who also was young, healthy and self-employed, and bought what she could afford, a catastrophic insurance policy ‘just in case.’ Then breast cancer hit at 31. Five years later, she still owes $40,000 for her $160,000 of treatment.

But when healthcare becomes political, real people often get lost in the rhetoric. Radio talk host Rush Limbaugh described Wednesday’s news conference in the Capitol where Molly, Catherine and others spoke as “dragging out people who have or had cancer to support their (House leaders’) healthcare bill.”

“Pelosi brings out a parade of people that have cancer, ‘We want healthcare, we have cancer, we’re dying, and we want healthcare,’” he said. “These are the exact people that won’t get it.”

Not so. Under the House bill, Molly and Catherine could buy an affordable policy from a national health insurance exchange that would have the same level of benefits that members of Congress get – including cancer screening. They would know upfront what their out-of-pocket and deductibles would be, not shocked later. No lifetime limits on care means they wouldn’t be cut off by their insurance company for lengthy cancer treatment.

And the House bill would, as the Speaker said, guarantee you coverage, “If you change your job or lose your job, or have pre-existing medical condition, you cannot be denied coverage.”

That would have prevented Vernon LeCount’s (speaking at podium) $28,000 in medical debt, which he struggles to pay off each month since it began accumulating a decade ago. Vernon’s new job required a waiting period before health benefits kicked in, yet a sudden bout of kidney stones didn’t heed the insurance waiting period.

“If you’ve ever had kidney stones, you know you don’t want to wait for your insurance to kick in,” he told CQ. “I pay toward this debt every month, but I can’t make a dent in it.”

Those people who like to turn healthcare reform into political rhetoric might want to reconsider how they would fare under Molly, Catherine and Vernon’s situations. Because if we don’t reform our current healthcare system, any of their stories could be ours one day.

To learn more about what the proposed House reform bill would do, click here.

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