20 August 2009

There are worse things than being broke

So, President Obama is going to make “an emotional and moral appeal?” I’m sure it will include many anecdotes about the struggles of various people trying to get insurance, or pay their medical bills. Isn’t it long past time to stop using sad stories to sell abhorrent policies? Because you know what? If your aim is to eliminate all the sad stories, you will never be done “reforming.”

Just to keep in the spirit of things, I have a health care “sad story,” but it’s one I don’t think he can use.

A little over five years ago, my son was diagnosed with brain cancer. He underwent a ten hour, microscope-guided brain surgery. He received six weeks of total brain and spine radiation, followed by 10 months of very intensive chemotherapy. After all of that, his cancer returned. He underwent another surgery, more radiation, a form of chemotherapy that could only be described as savage, and a bone marrow transplant. That did not work either. So he began another, somewhat more experimental therapy that his body simply could not tolerate. We traveled to other cities and states, got him into another clinical trial, and even tried many other, unconventional therapies.

During his five year battle, my son received at least 50 MRI scans, countless physical exams, many gallons of blood transfusions, at least three extended stays in ICU, a couple of near-death experiences, at least seven minor surgeries, and daily handfuls of prescription drugs for many, many months.

Also during this time, I changed jobs twice, and insurance companies four times. We paid our full, annual “out-of-pocket maximum” at least six times in five years. Not everything was covered fully, and we had to pay for a lot of of things in cash, despite being fully insured. I also took several months of unpaid leave from work. The total cost of his care was many hundreds of thousands of dollars, with tens of thousands of that out-of-pocket.

And I would gladly pay it all, and more, again. I would gladly sell everything I own, declare bankruptcy, and spend the rest of my days in debtor’s prison if it meant curing my son’s terrible illness.

But that was never, as it turns out, one of our options. You see, although treatments have become more successful over the years, the sad truth is that there is still no cure for cancer. Despite the best doctors and the best care in the world; despite many treatments and tests our young president’s “experts” might well have deemed “unnecessary,” my son died earlier this year.

In retrospect, I suppose you could say that all of his treatments were “unnecessary.” After all, none of them worked.

Only we don’t live our lives in retrospect; we don’t decide what is necessary, or even what is best, based solely on some oddsmaker’s calculation of the chance of success. As Americans, we expect to make our own free choices on how to spend our money, and how to live our lives. And some choose to honor the sanctity of life, rather than some ephemeral, materialistic notion of the “quality of life.”

My son chose to live his life fighting until the end, never giving up simply because the odds against him were too great, or the treatments too debilitating. Just because he lost his battle does not mean it wasn’t worth fighting - but that is exactly the sort of calculation that Obama seeks to mandate – not to preserve “dignity,” but solely to save money.

There are broader consequences to decisions to deny care. The incurable, seeking “unnecessary” hope for a cure, serve also to advance medical science by testing new therapies. But in Obamaworld, if the “unnecessary” is not worth paying for, not worth trying, how will it never become the cure?

I am pretty sure Mr. Obama will not use my sad story in one of his speeches. There is not much in my story to sell his idea of “reform.” His reform wouldn’t have helped my son. His reform won’t cure cancer. But that is not why I reject his plan. I don’t expect the President of the United States to cure cancer (although I suspect many of his supporters believe that he could.)

I reject his plan, and the philosophy behind it, because it does not celebrate freedom, does not encourage innovation, does not honor the individual judgment of medical professionals or their patients, and, in the end, because of its singular dedication to saving material resources, it is profoundly anti-human.

You may say his plan would have “saved” me some of the money I paid out over the years, and I have no doubt that is true.

But that’s savings I can do without. There are worse things than being broke.

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