Monday, August 10, 2009

Healthcare Reform

The buzz around the office is all about healthcare reform. Despite working for a government agency, most of my coworkers oppose government-run healthcare. Perhaps it is because they work for the government they feel this way.

The physicians worry their pay would be cut. Others worry about long wait lines, delayed urgent care, and high taxes.

I do not have a solution. But I am glad that healthcare reform is at least being considered. Here is a true story:

Not long ago, a man came into the clinic on a Monday morning with a hurt elbow. Friday evening, he had been doing some work around his house and had fallen from a ladder. He heard the crack when he landed on his arm. He howled in pain, drawing his wife out to find him. She insisted he go to the emergency room.

This man did not have insurance. He was employed full-time as a construction worker. He worked for a small company that is not required by law to provide its employees with health insurance.

In America, if you go to an emergency room and do not have insurance, the hospital is required by law to ensure that your condition is stabilized. After a three hour wait, the man was finally seen. They took x-rays of his arm and discovered he had broken off a piece of his elbow joint. They put his arm in a sling, wrote him a prescription for some pain meds, told him he needed to find an orthopedic surgeon (they provided him a list of names), and sent him on his way. Had he had insurance, they likely would have called the surgeon in and his surgery would have happened that, or the next, day. But he didn’t, and this wasn’t a life-threatening condition.

By Monday, the bit of bone which had broken off had wedged its way into the joint. He could no longer straighten his arm.

He was seen by a nurse practitioner in the clinic. There was nothing the NP could do – the man needed an orthopedist. He was referred to the clinic social worker. She spend the next few days calling every orthopedic surgeon in the area to see if anyone would do the surgery either for free or for a reduced price, or even with a payment plan (for the surgery is thousands of dollars). None would. No insurance, no surgery.

The small company that did not have to provide health insurance was also exempt from having to provide sick leave. The man, who could not do construction with a busted arm, was fired.

The last I heard, there was no surgery. The man’s arm healed (more or less) with total loss of mobility in the elbow. The social worker helped him get on social security disability since he could no longer work. Prior to the injury, this man was a contributing member to the economy. Now he receives government benefits.

You can’t tell me we don’t need healthcare reform.

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