Isn't it a shame!?!


Since I write this column and am moderating the Clallam County League of Women Voters forums on the need for health care reform, I am hearing more and more stories of individuals and their problems in getting health care. For reasons that need no explanation, I will not be identifying the persons behind the experiences I am about to report. 

When I heard this woman’s story I was reminded how much more there is to being unable to afford health care than one’s health. Ironically enough this woman lost health care coverage when her income improved. She no longer met the low income criteria that allowed the coverage. 

The problem is that her new income came nowhere close to meeting the requirements for actually purchasing individual insurance. 

All in all she works more than 40 hours a week of which part is as an employee and the rest in her own business. She also does a fair amount of charitable work. She is a good citizen of Clallam County by any measure except she cannot afford health insurance.

She began to have symptoms that she tried to ignore as temporary and, as it turned out, weren’t. When her symptoms increased in frequency and intensity she reasoned that it was in part due to her anxiety because she could not afford care. That didn’t work either and the symptoms continued.

She knew there was a "free" clinic in town but she was reluctant to go because she didn’t want charity. Finally a friend convinced her and she went. She waited two hours which didn’t matter to her because by now she felt desperate. 

When she saw the health care provider, she could no longer hold back her feelings and burst into tears. 

“I am so ashamed to be here,” she cried. She told how overwhelmed she was by her inability to pay for her own care by any means. 

The provider and nurse surrounded her with reassurance and she got the evaluation and treatment she needed. 

Shame is a powerful emotion characterized by strong feelings of being embarrassed, dishonorable and unworthy. Shame tells us that we have failed at a very deep level that says the worst about our character. Some choose pain over shame.

At the League’s recent forum on ethical and moral questions surrounding health care access Dr. Rebecca Corley, one of the speakers, told of a man who would not get needed treatment for a dislocated shoulder because he couldn’t pay for the treatment. Some of you know that a dislocated shoulder can be an excruciatingly painful condition.

Recently I saw one of those vignettes that appear on television every so often about families surviving the great recession. This one featured a family who had been comfortably middle class, lost jobs and finally savings. Small jobs did not provide enough and never health insurance. 

Survival meant going to the food bank, getting food stamps and going to free clinics. When asked how she was feeling, the weary mother responded, “ashamed, we always took care of ourselves.”

So it’s more than our health, isn’t it? It’s our dignity. It’s our sense of honor. For one of our examples, this price was too high to pay. Until we understand that the price of health care and insurance is too high and truly unaffordable unless someone else pays it like an employer, the government or one has scads of money. Employers, individuals and the government will continue to pay even more. 

Many speak to the generosity of Americans to donate and help others. That’s why we have "free" clinics. Free clinics do a lot but they can’t get you open heart surgery or chemotherapy. Makes more sense to me to get together and do the reforms necessary so care and insurance are affordable. 

I just don’t see our elected leaders caring too much about affordability, much less about our human dignity. Maybe it’s because they have health insurance, not to mention long periods of being paid even though they aren’t working. 

Isn’t it a shame? Yes, it’s a crying shame.

Column update

(Regarding a 150-percent increase in the cost of a particular drug "Drugs are not treating the pain of their high costs," Sequim Gazette, July 4, page A-8) and the 150-percent increase in the cost of a particular drug):


Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office responded with a form e-mail response that didn’t address any of my questions. Rep. Norman Dick’s office took my questions and referred them to my Part D insurer. 

A representative contacted me. Stay tuned for their answer. Clue, I’m not done.

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.
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