Thursday, October 15, 2009

Experience and Health Care

As many folks out there know, Kate had the flu last week. She's much better now, and everything went pretty smoothly, but as new parents facing the first illness, having her fever go over 104 degrees was pretty scary! (Jessica wrote a couple blog posts about the experience)

Experiencing the health care system for the first time from the parent's perspective has caused me to reflect on the current national debate about reforming it.

On Monday afternoon, when Kate's fever spiked high enough that we knew we should take her to the doctor, we were able to immediately get an appointment and be seen by someone within an hour. They wrote us a prescription, and we were able to get it filled right away at the pharmacy, and it helped get Kate's fever down. After a few days at home and a follow up visit to the doctor, she was all better and life could return to normal.

Why did all of this happen? Why did we have such a good experience, scary though it was at certain moments? The work of caring and dedicated medical professionals played a large part, of course. But we have the kind of access to them that not everybody has.

The first thing that the receptionist and the doctor's office or the pharmacy technician does is look on their computer to check our insurance information, and when they see that we have good coverage, they smile and are glad to help us. This isn't because they're greedy. It's because they need to earn money like anybody else, and the knowledge that we can pay gets us better treatment.

A quick glance around the waiting room at the pediatricians' office showed us people with kids as sick or sicker than ours, some of whom were unable to be seen or were having to wait a very long time because they had little or no coverage.

So why does Kate deserve better care than these other kids? The idea that we live in a meritocracy, that those who work harder deserve more, doesn't really apply here, because at eight months old, what has she done to deserve better treatment (other than being objectively the most beautiful baby ever, of course)?

The answer is that she gets better treatment because she won the genetic lottery, being born in the United States to an upper middle class family. Jessica and I won similar genetic lotteries back in the early 1980s. We've worked hard and made the most of the opportunities we've been given, of course, but no one can deny that we had infinitely more resources and opportunities than most people in this country, let alone the entire world. All because of the families we were born into.

We're told by some folks that giving all people access to a basic level of health care will somehow hurt us and make our lives worse. But I'm not sure how an infant whose parents both work blue collar jobs (or, for that matter, whose parents are out of work because of the economic downturn) getting the same basic care that Kate gets hurts my family.

Jessica and I are both very fortunate to have jobs that have enough flexibility to allow us to stay home when our child is sick. I don't see how some basic protections allowing people in less flexible jobs a certain amount of days to do the same hurts my family.

I'm still working on educating myself on the specific proposals, so at some point I'll probably be able to say what specific policy I'm in favor of.

So for now, let me simply say that equal access to health care for all people won't hurt my family. In fact, I think it will make it stronger. Jessica and I won't stop working hard and just depend on someone else to take care of us. But if one or both of us were to fall on hard times and lose our jobs or our coverage, at least we'd know that Kate would still be able to be seen by a doctor and not turned away because she picked the wrong time to get sick.

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