Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cancer Survivors: Get Behind Healthcare Reform

If I were looking for insurance right now, I would be largely out of luck. As a breast cancer survivor, I have that nasty pre-existing condition that allows insurers to deny me coverage or charge me so much I cannot afford it. When I turn 65, however, I will be eligible for Medicare, with no restrictions because of previous health problems. I will pay the same as other Medicare recipients for my care. Even Medigap policies—supplemental insurance that covers the 20 percent of health costs not covered by Medicare—cannot discriminate based on pre-existing coverage.

That, to me, is the biggest reason cancer survivors, their families and loved ones should support healthcare reform and should not be afraid of any expansion of government-run plans. At present, government-run healthcare allows us the treatment we need and views us as whole persons rather than pariahs who had the gall to get sick. Insurance companies too often look at us as expensive inconveniences. It is unconscionable that, in America, sick people go broke trying to pay for care or avoid needed treatments because their insurance won’t cover them. This is not the healthcare a great country deserves; it is the healthcare the insurance companies allow us to have.

Among the basic tenets of President Obama’s plan are the necessity of covering pre-existing conditions, protecting families from healthcare-related bankruptcy, and allowing people to maintain coverage if they lose their jobs. These are all essential to anybody who has had any type of cancer diagnosis. That big “C” can easily translate into a big “No” from big insurance.

The American Cancer Society supports healthcare reform for these reasons and for another biggee—prevention. The cost of a mammogram can cause a cash-strapped women to avoid caring for her health, which can put her life in jeopardy. In what world is that considered right?


Aurghhhhhhhhh. It’s startling that this idea has gained the traction is has. The healthcare bill as it exists simply states that people have the option of end-of-life counseling. The word option means we can take it or leave it. And this means only things like living wills or an explanation of Hospice care. My husband and I already have living wills—we got them before I even got sick. We do not want to be kept on life support if our lives are essentially over—and we do not want our kids burdened with that decision.

Interestingly, Republicans supported this option in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill. Now, they are ranting about pulling the plug on Grandma. Is that politics or principle? Well....

One conservative, however, David Brooks of The New York Times, said, on today’s Meet the Press, "the crazies are attacking the plan because it will cut off granny. That is simply not true, that simply is not going to happen." On Friday, on PBS’s News Hour, Brooks said, “But it's about having serious discussions about care at the end of life. And we're going to have to have those discussions. So, in some weird way, I'm pro-death panel. I want to have those discussions, whether it's one-on-one or just as a society."

Be assured that death panels are not going to come to the chemo ward and tell us we’re all useless and not fit to live. A wise doctor, however, might give us some counseling about how to face the end of life. Death is going to happen to all of us, although most people avoid even thinking about it. Once you’ve had cancer, though, the reality of death is embedded in your consciousness. Still, are we really ready to face it? Do we know what Hospice offers? Do we understand what a living will is and what it means? Have we made provisions that mean we accept the responsibility for what happens at the end of our lives, rather than foisting that on our children or grandchildren?

Healthcare reform, as I see it, is about fairness. I am more invested, I suspect, because of the many people I know struggling with cancer. Fighting the disease is enough. We should not also have to fight our insurance companies. Let's level the playing field and truly give patients the rights they need and deserve.

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