Recently, at a family birthday celebration, I listened to my 7-year-old son interview his grandfather about our family’s ancestors, mill workers who arrived to America from Scotland in 1840. Although the dialogue was inspired by a homework project, the conversation evolved into a precious and memorable exchange.
When the adult discussion inevitably swayed toward politics, my husband’s father proclaimed that if the healthcare bill passes as projected, he won’t be around much longer to serve as our valued family historian.
“Why?” I wondered aloud.
“Well,” he stated, “the care I need (after successive heart surgeries over the past many years) won’t be accessible to me any longer. The doctors I rely on will give up fighting to be paid and the system will deteriorate even further.”
This declaration came from a man who ran a successful orthopedic surgery practice for 40 years. He is intimately familiar with our nation’s healthcare and insurance protocols. Now, he finds himself at their mercy at a time in his life when he requires and deserves affordable, high quality medical support.
“In China, they treasure their elders. In America, our values are not the same. I am an expensive patient, adding stress to an already overloaded system," he said. Heartbreaking, I thought.
So just what are we proposing, I struggle to understand? Daily headlines shout out that “Obama’s healthcare plan” is on the brink of success, perhaps only months away from becoming a reality.
But what does that mean to EVERY American it will impact? Indeed, EVERY American stands firmly in the path of this tidal wave of reform.
And is it a good thing? Or is it a meteor of high-stakes hubris hurtling at us so forcefully that we won’t know what hit us until the crash has already occurred?
Implications of the proposed solutions are so complex that “we the people” are caught in a blur of legislative lingo that is virtually impossible to decipher. Who has the time? Who has the patience? Who has the passion to really dig through it all and explain it in terms that mean something to ME?
Answer: my brilliant college room-mate, Oakleigh Ryan.
She has written a piece entitled, A healthcare letter to Americans, which I deem a must-read for every responsible voter struggling to find a voice – let alone an inkling of clarity - in this debate.
Oakleigh has 20 years of experience working in pharmaceuticals, hospital management and medical consulting. As a result, she has explored this tangled web from every vantage point. In addition, she is a former patient of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and a mother of two young children, living in a small town in the Midwest.
She knows how drug companies influence politics, how hospitals maneuver to manage costs, how patients struggle to understand their bills and how terrifying it is to leave your babies at home while you face a life-threatening health crisis.
So she wrapped all of those perspectives around an eloquent and understandable analysis that seeks to empower all Americans to partake in this important dialogue.
What spurred her to write this letter, you might ask? Simply, she wanted the issues to bear relevance and meaning to the very people they are most likely to affect. She actually told me that moregreenmoms was one of the main catalysts that inspired her.
I recommend that you print her piece (double-sided of course) and tuck it in your bag for that 20-minute sideline break the next time you drive carpool. I plan to bust out a few of her insights at my next dinner party and see where the conversation leads.
And ultimately I know she hopes that many of us become inspired to send a letter to our senators outlining the priorities we hope will be addressed on behalf of our families and communities.
At the end of the day, we can all worry about the chemicals in our sunscreens or the pesticides on our peaches but if, even after our diligence and care, we do get sick, we need to ensure that we have built a system that will embrace us when we rely on it most.
This is the big picture - the real deal. We will ALL be affected by today’s reform.
A line from Oakleigh’s letter really hit home for me. She wrote, “I hope we can allocate some of the time we spend each year to selecting our favorite singer on American Idol to participating in this healthcare dialogue.”
She is so entirely right. And it is really not so much to ask, is it?
As mothers and fathers of the 21st century we have the exceptional opportunity to re-tool how we define wellness and integrate it into all facets of our lifestyles. If we begin to embrace a system that encourages health rather than addresses illness, the energies begin to shift in an extremely positive new direction.
I am certain that there is much to be gained from portions of today’s healthcare reform. But I also believe that it may be the rat attempting to swallow the boa constrictor for no other reason than to say he could do it. And we all know he will choke.
Personally, I like happier endings.
For my family, that means having grandparents at our dinner table for many years to come.