“Sitting here makes things like losing your house for medical bills seem really far away, even impossible.  The problem is that no one can pay medical bills when you have a serious illness and no insurance.  And you can’t get insurance if you’ve lost your job and are sick.  People just don’t think it can happen to them.”  Jess looked out the window of Anthony’s dining room where she and Drew had stopped for dinner on the way home. 

“So how did Mrs. Olsen get into financial trouble?”  Drew asked.

“She was trying to help her daughter.  She couldn’t just let her die and didn’t know what else to do.  The hospital was pressuring her daughter to pay, and, like I said, her mother didn’t know what else to do.  She took out a loan on her house to pay the medical bills.  At one point her daughter was even referred to Seattle—People’s Hospital.  (Read about People’s Hospital in The Price of Death.)  She has bills all over the place.  I understand that her mother fully mortgaged her house and even started using her credit card.  Can you imagine how that debt is climbing with credit card interest rates?  Fortunately  Mrs. Olsen is still working. . . not sure what she does.  My Yakima contact says that she was worried about her.  She wasn’t sure that she wasn’t suicidal.  Not paying her bills was just something that Mrs. Olsen couldn’t imagine, but losing her house to do it was off the charts.”

“I was reading about the health reform debate in the Seattle Times.  The insurance companies are right in there ‘helping’ us get the right recipe for health care reform.  If you hadn’t pointed out to me that they are responsible for much more than the 30% that they suck out of the medical dollar, it wouldn’t have dawned on me what an impact they have.  It never occurred to me how the drive for profit could cause so much more that just diversion of the money itself–from delay in treatment to short staffing.  What is so incredible is that nobody appreciates the effect!” Drew mused.  “I’m sure that, like you when you were a nurse, most health care professionals don’t see the overall picture.”

“Right.  I just assumed that someone had made a decision about what was a reasonable number of patients for a nurse to handle.  It didn’t occur to me that they would gamble with people’s lives. . . . I was really naïve,” Jess said.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t think that when we are constantly told that free enterprise is the best possible situation.  I’m sure that most people believe that they (the insurance companies) have some grand scheme to provide the best care for the money.  Health care providers are too busy trying to make a living to pay attention and they really haven’t seen a better arrangement,” Drew said.  “But Congress should be paying attention!  It’s amazing how a few campaign contributions really control your perspective.  I don’t really understand why we should organize our health care so that insurance companies can keep making profits.”

Jess chimed in.  (It didn’t take much to set her off on health care, her favorite soap box subject.)  “Well, until I started reading about and even seeing some of people who died as a result of this crazy system, I wouldn’t have believed it. . . .  Of course that’s insured people!  I certainly wouldn’t have believed that a minimum of 98,000 people who have health care die every year.  And it’s even worse for those who don’t have health insurance.  I have a real concern for the Mrs. Olsen’s predicament.  ”

“Well, you go get ‘um sweetie.  The world should appreciate you even if they haven’t caught up!”  Drew finished, as he looked out the window and his hand rested on Jess’s.  He didn’t even need to look to see where her hand was.  He knew where it would be.  “Amazing,” he thought, as he rested his hand on hers.  “This is what it’s like to have a soul mate.”

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June 2009

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