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Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • Yesterday was a snow day.  As a teacher, I’m always elated to have an unplanned day at home, but yesterday I was especially glad.  Inauguration day is one of my favorite days.  Whether I voted for the incoming president or not, I never feel more patriotic than when I see one president voluntarily hand over power to the next.  Our school had planned an assembly for the actual swearing in, but I was thrilled to be able to watch every minute of the day.

                This inauguration brought special elation.  I knocked on doors and made phone calls for this new president.  Surely everyone in the country was touched to see the joy on the faces of the people who braved the cold to stand in a crowd on the mall to say they were there for the historic milestone in our country’s story.  They shared their own stories of years of struggle to see the day when an African-American could stand on steps built by slaves to be sworn in as our president.

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                I had taken a break from my non-stop watching to put in a load of laundry when I heard the voice of the announcer in the other room talking about Ted Kennedy in a serious voice.  I dropped the laundry to see what was going on.  The mood of jubilation was broken by the news of his seizure.

                All of us who have endured cancer treatment can easily understand what probably happened.  We’ve pushed ourselves to attend a child’s special program or a sister’s wedding, only to have a set back in our recovery.  Senator Kennedy has been pushing himself since finishing treatment, not just for the inauguration, but because he wants to finish the health care reform he has sponsored for so long.

                I don’t pretend to know the best way to provide universal health care.  As a person who hears regularly from women who are frightened because they can’t afford the health care they need as cancer patients, I know that something has to change.

                Our current system is based on the premise that our employers should bear the cost of our health care.  I see two major problems with this approach.

    1.     Companies in the United States are competing in a global market where most of their competitors don’t have to pay health care costs because there is a national health care system.  Small companies especially struggle under this burden because the premise of health insurance works best when there is a large pool of healthy people to share the cost of taking care of the ones who are sick.

    2.     Unemployed and self-employed people can’t get good health insurance on their own.  Stay at home moms and children don’t have a group policy.  When my son decided to start his own free-lance photography business, a major issue was how he would be able to afford health insurance.  Fortunately, he lives in Massachusetts, so their new universal health insurance plan helped him out.  My heart breaks when I read about women whose jobs are in jeopardy because their cancer treatments prevent them from doing their work.  Their biggest worry is how they will continue cancer treatments if they lose their insurance.  People in cancer treatment have enough to worry them.  Getting well should be their main concern.

  •      I understand that there are also problems with national health care systems like Canada’s.  Health care is expensive everywhere whether it is the employer or the taxpayer who subsidizes the cost of getting sick.  Throwing out our employer-based system, which works reasonably well for the majority of our citizens, might create more problems than it solves.  Starting with finding ways to provide insurance for children and those outside the current system might be the best way to begin.

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         Cancer patients are heavy users of the health care system.  One way we can help out is to be sure that we get the tests and treatments we need without insisting on the most expensive bells and whistles we may not need.  Yes, our insurance or Medicare may pay our bill, but everyone’s insurance premiums or taxes must increase to cover it.  Often an older drug is just as effective, and has a better safety record than that new drug being pushed on television commercials.  If our doctor can get the information he needs from a blood test or CT scan, we shouldn’t be pushing for a more expensive PET scan or MRI.

                President Obama has a mountain of challenges as he begins.  Finding the funds for health care when the economy is in such a mess will not be easy.  The cancer community will need to write legislators with our stories.   Our stories put a human face on an abstract crisis.  One of the reasons I voted for President Obama is his willingness to listen to different points of view.  None of us knows how to fix medical care, but all of us together will find a better way.  Share your story of struggle.   Together, we can change a health care system that excludes to a system that provides for all.

Published On: January 21, 2009