Health Care Means More than a Private Doctor

A medical student wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday making a few good points, but mostly just revealing her naiveté about what Americans really need. She complains that a policy of New York's Governor Spitzer gives "requirements that all individual and small-group plans cover services that are useless to many people, like hormone replacement therapy and midwifery services, and up to 15 chiropractic visits per year." To her I'd say: give it time dear, just give it time. Some day after paying off the backache of all those med school bills through bilking your (insured) patients for every penny possible, you just might have a baby or go through menopause. Not to mention the fact that midwives not only cost less than doctor's visits, but their methods often prevent unnecessary -- and expensive -- procedures like cesarean sections.

Most of her comments center around the horrible idea of government having "control" over patients' health care and well-being. I presume this is as opposed to insurance conglomerates controlling our care. Because surely we all know how much those large for-profit corporations help and care for the needs of the American public.

Instead of fearing government control, we should fear what will happen to the invisible people who care for those with incurable illness in the coming years. Alzheimer's rates may quadruple by 2050, and autism and childhood cancer continue to increase. Yet professional caregivers are still among the lowest paid professionals in the U.S., and informal caregivers aren't even considered to be part of our market economy. This is despite the fact that caregiving provided by family and loved ones of the infirmed would constitute 20 percent of our national health care spending (or $196 billion) -- if it were officially counted. Beyond being over-charged and denied needed procedures for the profit of insurance companies, this is the hidden double-whammy behind the way our nation deals with health care.

I never thought anything would be worse than the devastating news several years ago that my young son had autism. Luckily I was living in Norway at the time and had a chance to see what socialized medicine could do for families dealing with the tragedy of a childhood developmental disorder. But unfortunately, this wasn't the last heart-sinking news I would receive.

After moving back to the U.S., my second child was diagnosed with a tumor inside his spinal cord at the age of two. After a few surgeries to try and remove it, he became a paraplegic and now uses a wheelchair for mobility. Four years later, he still suffers from the cancer and continues chemotherapy today. We have been immersed in the health care system, and it has been a bumpy ride.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest stressors is that my caregiving for these two boys is invisible to the U.S. economic system. Like me, millions of Americans will at some point in their lifetime care for a sick loved one. We will all lose wages, experience fatigue and numerous other challenges. Yet there's nothing special about me or any other person caring for a sick child, spouse or parent that prepares us to cope with the stress and scheduling nightmare that comes with the job. I happen to work for an amazingly supportive organization and my children are insured. But there is rarely a day that goes by I don't think of those in less fortunate circumstances. Especially women.

Women have been dealt a disproportionate hand in caregiving responsibilities. Because children are born from women's bodies this mostly comes easily to us, but it is without reward in the U.S. economic system. Our legislators and policy advocates have made it clear what they value.

Incidentally, U.S. legislators are made up of 84 percent men, and 16 percent women. The Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has 17 men and 4 women. The American Medical Association's Board of Trustees also has 17 men and 4 women (and no Blacks or Latinos).

Apparently women are still only supposed to be seen (taking care of children, the elderly, and those with failing health) but not heard.

This is not to say men aren't competent leaders. But I would never trust a well-trained cardiologist to prescribe a course of care for my son's chemotherapy regimen. For that, we need an oncologist. Similarly, it is more than incredible that we rely on only half of humanity -- men -- to decide what's best for us all. It's time to get women's voices in the health care mix. We have valuable input that will enhance the nation's collective knowledge base.

And as someone who has for several years actually entrusted the care of my children to both socialized medicine while living overseas and the U.S. system now, let me dispel some myths: Other developed countries have technology and equipment just as good as we have, and the waiting lists are no longer than ours (try getting in to see a neurologist any time soon). The only differences I could find were that here, my insurance gets billed at least double what it was billed in Norway and that here, my children are often exposed to unnecessary procedures for both a physicians' profit and liability.

We need to catch up with the rest of the world. Our health care system is a global laughingstock. Look at it this way: every developed nation in the world has a cable modem, and we're still using dial-up.

Sure, through serious health care reform perhaps pharmaceutical companies wouldn't pay their CEOs $19 million salaries like Pfizer Inc. did last year. How tragic -- considering more than 13 percent of American's are living under the poverty line and couldn't dream of paying health insurance premiums.

The neo-con talking heads still term caring social policies as "liberal." But that's peculiar considering they find it virtuous for women to stay at home to raise children (and not accrue social security) -- yet they find providing state-sponsored access to health care for those very same children to be somehow contemptuous.

Or, in the case of Terri Schiavo, would keeping her alive been less heroic to conservatives if it weren't an insurance company paying for her care? Perhaps that would have been deemed government intervention rather than right-to-life?

Family values begin with valuing families more than the almighty dollar or partisan politics. That's not only a double-whammy -- it's a double-standard.

Women and men need to start using our voices to actively speak out about health care and caregiving. Call your Senator. Call your Representative in Congress. Democracy is for the people, by the people. That's you.


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