Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Growing Pains of Health Care

"What people don't understand or don't realize … until it's unfortunately way too late, is that you buy into a system that feeds you the notion that it's there for you. You pay so that you are cared for, but in reality, when push comes to shove, and you really need the system, the system is not there for you." -- Sandra Lemaire, a VOA employee, who is trying to get her mother on Medicaid, which extends health benefits to the ailing poor.

"The large majority of the population, who are middle class people, who have worked all of their lives, squirrel money away, and pay insurance all their lives, they don't qualify for anything. Insurance does not pay for long term care." -- Pascale Lemaire, Sandra's sister.

While the debate over health care reform rages on in the United States, many people and families are struggling to pay for their medical needs. Some attention has been given to the nearly 50 million uninsured in America, but those who have been insured all their lives also struggle.

This is the story of the Lemaire family, which has been hit hard by the misfortunes of bad health and rising medical bills. Sandra spends hours every day helping her ailing parents after working full shifts for the English webdesk of the Voice of America. Her father, who also used to work at VOA, suffered an aneurysm last year.

Shortly after he returned from the hospital, his wife suffered from the same severe predicament, a dangerous blood-filled dilation of a blood vessel, and eight months later, she remains in a nursing facility, attached to tubes, unable to speak, and barely able to twitch. Sandra visits her every day, and has hired a lawyer to try to find a way to cut down on monthly medical bills which are in the tens of thousands of dollars, and are quickly decimating the family's savings.

Pascale, her sister, a freelance hairstylist, stays at home with her dad, who also needs full-time assistance to get by. Pascale has had to cut down on her working hours, and can no longer afford health care for herself. She says she feels she is about to have a nervous breakdown.

This is just one family's story and some of their opinions about the state of health care and the need for reform. There are other opinions out there, with many Americans expressing fears the government will spend too much money to reform the system, and tax too heavily to create wider insurance, as Jim Malone's radio report indicates. Opponents of a so-called public option plan, where the government would provide insurance, say that is like socialism. In the U.S. political context, that is almost as bad as terrorism. Those who support a government-run alternative to private insurance say they will be very disappointed if such a plan is not pushed through Congress, as now seems possible.

Town hall meetings were held across the United States in August to discuss the future of health care, erupting at times with yelling and people tearing up each other's placards. Opponents have started showing up at events where President Barack Obama is speaking with guns and rifles in states where this is allowed, making some in the crowd very uncomfortable.

President Obama once said opponents are trying to turn this debate into his "Waterloo," in reference to the town in Belgium where a 19th century battle ended the rule of European emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. But as Kent Klein reports the president is battling with all his might to make discussions civil and avoid his own demise.