Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let them know what you think

I want action.

I'm tired of all this back and forth about health care reform. I want a vote — whether through reconciliation, deeming or a rule action. I'm not sure what all those terms mean and I don't think half the broadcasters, reporters, bloggers or Congressional leaders do either.

There are lots of nasty buzzwords being used to describe these procedures and to discourage the use of them. There also appears to be historical data showing that each party has used these procedures in the past.

I don't care about the politics. I just want to see a few things accomplished.

I want to see lifetime caps disappear in insurance policies. It's really easy for a catastrophic illness to cost a million dollars in a short period of time. Those benefits run out way before the life of the individual with the illness, disease or stroke may end.

I want to see an opportunity for every person to have access to health care. I'm not talking about having access to the emergency room for a sinus infection. I'm talking about the ability to see a family doctor for preventative health care issues as well as infections and colds.

I want to see the health care bill streamlined. It would be nice to have it come in a smaller package, but I also understand it is trying to deal with multiple complex issues. It sets out some pretty lofty goals to be in place immediately and phased in over the next few years.

I want to see those kickbacks removed. I don't know what the Senate was thinking when they approved some of the perks for Nebraska and Louisiana. Who knows what other states benefited from these crazy deals? The deals need to go! They are not fair to other states.

I want to see Senate and Congressional leaders pass health care reform. If it's a legal method that has been employed by Congress in the past to approve legislation, then I think it should be used today.

I sent e-mails this morning to my Congressman and my Senators. It took longer to fill out the contact information than it did to ask them nicely to support the passage of health care reform.

I know there are a lot of people who hate the idea of health care reform. That's fine. You need to let Congressional leaders know how you feel, too.

It's easy, go to this Web site and you can find the people who represent your district and state. Let them know what you think. Let them know if you are for it or against it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't judge, just help

This morning, I was reading about Sen. Harry Reid's wife and daughter's accident. In one of the articles, it noted that Reid did not stay at the hospital. He returned to the Senate to continue negotiations about health care reform.

I cringed, because I knew things like this would happen. I found this Tweet: "Harry Reid, a sure loser in the 2010 election, would rather be in DC forcing Obamacare thru, than to be with wife in hospital."

Forget the politics of health care reform. Forget that Reid is a Democratic leader.

Think about how each individual deals with medical emergencies differently.

When my late husband had a catastrophic stroke, I was able to stay with him at the hospital. I didn't return to work for four or five weeks. NOT everyone can do that. I had a supportive employer, co-workers and family.

When he was able to communicate with me, he said he didn't remember 99 percent of what happened in that ICU unit. He doesn't know what was said, done or who visited. It's a fog, because of his precarious condition and the environment. It's difficult for many to keep their days and nights straight. The machines and tubes often create noises that muffle and alter reality as well.

While Mrs. Reid has a broken back, nose and neck — all very serious — I understand why Harry Reid did what he did. It's what he needed to do. Once you observe a few medical emergencies, you'll see how each person deals with it differently. Think about it — some people cry and fall to pieces. Some people find an inner strength that no one has seen before. Some people become numb from the experience. Some people let the medical professionals do their job.

People will criticize you no matter what you do. Some people felt like I stayed at the hospital for too long. I was encouraged to leave and to begin moving ahead, but I couldn't. While I wasn't the crying, weepy type, looking back, I honestly needed that time in the bubble of the ICU waiting room to adjust to my new reality.

Money also plays a role in how many react. Some folks can't afford to buy gas for their car to visit loved ones in the hospital. Some can't afford to miss a day of work. After all, the ICU is taking take of your loved one — technically you are there for support.

Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe family contact is important for recovery. But, I don't want to judge a person for how he or she reacts. It's ridiculous to do so. That individual has enough stress. There's no reason to pile it on with snarky remarks.

My mom had a serious neck and back surgery last August. She's recovering nicely, but she has mentioned on more than one occasion that she doesn't remember my visit with her during the post-surgery phase. I was there. She knows I was there, but she can't remember it. It's just another example of where your loved one — may not even know what you're doing to help them.

Unfortunately, there will be nasty comments made about Mr. Reid and how he behaves while his wife is recovering. I think the best thing is to simply offer up a prayer or a nice thought for the family. Medical emergencies are difficult and often devastating. The last thing a family needs is a bunch of nosey folks butting in. Each family needs to make its own decision on what's best. No one else.

Friday, February 19, 2010

So, who's on first?

It would be funny, if it were not so serious.

I read a report yesterday about how Americans are facing an increase in health care costs. Some Californians are facing huge increases in their health insurance coverage — to the tune of 39 percent. The increase is essentially for those folks who buy individual insurance policies.

Who is most likely to buy an individual policy? Someone who is unemployed or doesn't receive insurance coverage through work.

The article points out that only five percent of non-elderly Americans have individual insurance and 60 percent are covered by employers. That leaves a large chunk of folks with no coverage or whose care is covered by government programs.

Politically, the rate hike in California, which impacts about 800,000 people, creates a new talking point for health care reform (or the new buzzword health insurance reform).

How can people afford health insurance, if the rates continue to increase? There are other cases of premium hikes in Maine and Indiana, too. My guess is that there are cases in every state.

The economy isn't helping the situation. Many folks who are unemployed and need medical insurance are signing up for these individual policies. Younger people, who are unemployed are not buying policies. They are "winging it" and hoping they don't get sick.

With a more concentrated pool of sick people buying insurance, the companies are increasing prices to cover the services. The quandary now is that folks who really need health insurance to cover their medical conditions cannot afford it. When these people with known medical issues fail to seek treatment or must seek emergency treatment without medical insurance, who pays the bill?

See, I'm thinking the government — really taxpayers — eventually pick up the tab for this medical care. While some people have died from lack of health insurance, as a general rule, we do end up taking care of many people. Services are provided whether an individual can pay for them or not.

I know many people are adamantly opposed to health care reform, but I think we're talking in circles as we argue against reform. It's like that Abbott and Costello joke, "Who's on first?" If we just listened to the details, we would understand who is really paying for medical care when people don't have access to health insurance.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Texas case puts chill in the air

A friend recently shared an article from the New York Times about a nurse, who faces a felony charge for anonymously reporting a physician to a state medical board.

The nurse faces up to 10 years for "misuse of official information." She wrote an anonymous letter to Texas regulators about a physician at her rural hospital.

She contends she had a professional obligation to protect patients from what she witnessed at the hospital. Prosecutors intend to show at trial that she had a history of making "inflammatory" statements about the doctor and intended to damage his reputation.

While reading this story, I couldn't comprehend that a medical complaint would rise to the level of a felony charge against the person making it. I have complained about medical professionals and facilities before. It's something that I believe as a patient and/or a caregiver I have a right to do.

It's simple. If something is bad, tell the people in charge. If they don't do anything, go to the next level, etc.

In Texas, it might not be that simple. This case is significant, because it's not a patient or a family member who has blown the whistle. It's a nurse. A nurse, who with access to medical charts and with a trained medical background, could provide a complaint against a physician or medical organization in greater detail than a patient or family member.

The nurse on trial and another one have lost their jobs over the complaints. If all this can happen to a nurse, what will happen to patients and family members who complain about the quality of their medical care and the people who provide it? This is one trial I hope the prosecution can't prove.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Taking care of family

It's one topic we can agree on — we should take care of our family. The sticking point is often, who does the work. If your parents are still together as a couple, the healthier parent takes on those care giving responsibilities.

With only one parent left, a child will step up and take on those responsibilities. If you are an only child, it's easier and more complicated at the same time. You have all the responsibilities. The whole process is a lot more complicated than the bumper stickers that advise: "Be nice to your kids. They'll choose your nursing home."

I was reading an article in Time titled "Who Takes Care of Mom?" by Francine Russo. The author shares her experience as being the "bad" sister, who lived far away as her mom's health failed. "She never asked me to do anything, and I didn't volunteer." That sums up what many experience when siblings become caregivers.

I experienced that myself last fall when my mother had surgery. Although I knew there was little I could do while she was hospitalized, I coordinated my visit so I was there before and immediately after the surgery. There was nothing I could really do and as my mom put it during a recent visit to my home, "I don't remember seeing you in August."

I wasn't there when my sister and brother and their families tried to help Mom and help Dad help Mom during those weeks post-surgery. I called. I asked questions. I contributed little to the recover process.

The good news is that my family knew this going into the process. My sister and I talked about this prior to Mom's surgery. We all knew my visit during the surgery would be during the easy phase of the recovery — doctors and nurses did the bulk of the work here. It was when Mom returned home with special medical equipment, home health visits, etc. that the real work began.

It's important for families — especially siblings to talk about these issues before the relationship gets strained. Caregiving is a stressful experience and there will be blowups, frustrations and hard feelings. I don't see a way to avoid it altogether, but there are a few ways to ease the tension.

Families should talk about how they plan to proceed when a parent needs assistance. Is there money for in-home care? Will someone move in? Will a parent move in with a child? Will your parents needs to live in a nursing home or other-type of assisted care facility?

It's a good idea to discuss medical directives, guardians and wills at this time, too.

It's an uncomfortable subject, but it's one that is well worth it. Discuss what your parents want and don't want. Discuss what each of the adult children in the family can do. Then, you can hopefully develop a plan that makes everyone feel good and not like a "bad" sibling.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We still need to fix the health care system

With the election last night of Scott Brown in Massachusetts , a lot of people think health care reform is dead. Many people hate the reform on the table so much, they were downright giddy.

Brown's election may very well be the death of health care reform, but it's death doesn't resolve the problems we have in the system.

This new change doesn't help that there are a lot of people using our medical system, who have no way to pay for it. The change doesn't help the people, who need medications but can't afford them. The change doesn't help create a more cost-effective way of delivering health care to those in need.

I hope once all the happy dancing and finger pointing is over both constituents and elected officials in Washington will take another look at reform.

Just yesterday I was sitting in a program on pregnancy. The nurse conducting the class mentioned that a simple tape measure was once used to determine the baby's growth throughout a pregnancy.

Today, doctors rely on ultrasounds to track a baby's development. Most insurance and government programs pay for ultrasounds, so most patients aren't directly footing the increased medical bill.

Are they really necessary? The nurse presenting the program didn't seem to think so. One can debate the medical and cost merits of each method. Mothers-to-be might have some strong input on the issue. Ultrasounds give them an opportunity to see their growing baby on a regular basis. A tape measure couldn't compare on an emotional level, but it would save money.

This is just one random idea of how health care expenses could be turned into savings. I hope the momentum for change whether it began in the 2008 election or began in Massachusetts in 2010 will move in a positive direction for health care reform. We still need to fix our health care system.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new year on the horizon

It's New Year's Eve and we're on the edge of a new decade. Looking back -- 2009 was a tough year for healthcare issues. Some form of health reform passed, but still has to be conferenced into a workable bill for the president to sign in 2010.

I haven't read the proposed bills. From the sounds of it, most congressmen haven't done this either. So, I can't tell whether I am in good or bad company on this issue.

I know many people hate the idea of healthcare reform. The debate on the issue has really fallen into a dark pit (to put it nicely). The townhalls on the issue turned into violent shouting matches. My friend Rick sent me a nice commentary piece on the reform topic, which talked about how many of the arguments against past government improvements were being recycled in the 2009 debate.

When my husband Andy tore out the old metal cabinets in our 1940s era kitchen, he discovered a newspaper from 1958. It was apparently the year of the last remodel. The newspaper had an article about health care reform of that day. There was talk about Medicare and the Veterans Administration system. The article shared concerns by physicians and politicians that the proposed changes would created a socialized medical system and would be bad for America. I would share more details, but the newspaper yellowed from decades fell apart.

I'm not sure how the bill will impact us in 2010, but I'm looking forward to finding out. I'm going to keep an open mind about it and hope others will too. I won't be afraid to speak out about problems I have with it, but I also want to give it a chance.