Thursday, February 15, 2007

Maytag and Medicare

If you're not immersed in health problems right now, one day you will be. I say that with complete confidence. Because even if you are in perfect health, have the best insurance on the planet, and have a roster of caring, compassionate doctors at your disposal for your wellness visits, someday someone close to you will face serious health challenges. And no matter what your circumstance, you will pay for our failing healthcare system, one way or another.

Our family has decent healthcare coverage. Not great, but it will do. And it beats not having any at all. But like the U.S. political system, the U.S. healthcare system is broken. It needs fixing, and fast. Normally, the last place I'd look to these days for a fix of any kind is Washington. But we're in a crisis. Neither the medical community nor the insurance companies are going to get us out of it. God help us; our only hope may be in D.C.

The other day, a glimmer of hope did begin to flicker, ever so faintly. Ten U.S. senators, evenly split between the two major parties, sent a proposal to President Bush that calls on Congress and the administration to immediately begin to work together to provide, among other things:

  • affordable health coverage (either private or governmental) for everyone

  • modernized tax rules for health coverage that will no longer favor the wealthy

  • coverage with an emphasis on wellness and prevention, specifically with regard to ridiculously inconsistent (my wording) Medicare provisions

  • improved access to information on the price and quality of health services. (The senators rightly point out that consumers can find out more about washing machines than about health services, and far more quickly.)

As a hospice volunteer, I took issue with one other provision, that more end-of-life options be made available so patients won't be "forced into hospice care." Oh my. We should all be so fortunate as to have access to hospice care at the end of our lives. Many of the families I deal with wish they had known about or taken advantage of hospice care earlier on.

Anyway, before the senators sent the proposal on Tuesday, Michael Barone wrote this column in U.S. News & World Report, expressing understandable surprise at Bush's State of the Union healthcare proposal. I suspect most people who are concerned about healthcare legislation are like me; we didn't expect anything to be done on the issue until after the 2008 election. But I agree with Barone and the senators: we can't wait that long. We need to start working now with what we have.

All well and good, but—let's all take a deep breath—I'll say it again: God help us.

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