Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To Promote The General Welfare

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." ~ Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

According to a survey released in June, by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.3 million Americans, or about 15.4%, did not have health insurance coverage in 2009.* Worsened, in part, by the fiscal crisis, this number rose to an estimated 49.9 million uninsured this year.** Until recently, these numbers were just dry statistics, spouted by Brian William, as I watched the evening news and had my supper. I’d cluck my tongue, agree it was a shame, and turn my attention to my salad.

This winter, I was rudely reminded that the American health care deficit is about more than theoretical numbers; people are suffering. My friend, Dani, works hard at her job seven days a week. Aided by food stamps, she provides for herself and her two kids of 12 and 14 years. Unfortunately, she’s not covered by health insurance, and has broken a tooth which has become impacted.

With half her face swollen, and in a great deal of pain, she made her way to the public urgency care clinic. The doctor politely explained the tooth causing her so much pain is a dental problem, rather than a medical problem. While he couldn’t remove the tooth, he did give her a prescription for an antibiotic/pain killer combo. Her heart sank when her pharmacist told her the combo is $60, but the straight antibiotic is only $6. She chose the $6 option, and controlled the pain, as best she could, with over the counter ibuprofen.

That’s when I stepped in and helped her find an emergency dentist. In big red letters the website advertised the availability of payment plans. Below this statement is another stating they, “see all patients.” Encouraged by the claims and the photos of friendly dental professionals smiling at her from cyber-space, she called the number on the screen. After a quick two minute conversation, the friendly voice on the other end determined she didn’t qualify for one of THEIR payment plans.

The voice did give Dani three web addresses for sites which offer medical and dental loans though. The minimum loan one can apply for is $5000. Desperate, she completed the online forms, only to discover she doesn’t make enough to qualify for even the minimum loan on a 48 month plan. Dani has since resigned herself to waiting for her tax refund, next April, to have her tooth fixed or pulled.

OK, forget the fact she wouldn’t need the loan if she made more money, because she’d probably be able to afford insurance. That part’s bizarre to me, but is pretty standard in the business world. What blows my mind is that there’s no mechanism in place to address basic pain relief and dental care of citizens of this country. I’m not talking about complex heart transplants, although those shouldn’t be cost prohibitive either, or elective cosmetic surgery. We can’t grant access to prescription pain relievers or simple curative procedures.

Four years from now, unless conservative nay sayers have their way, we’ll be able to alleviate the suffering of many American citizens who fall through the cracks today. It’s a long time for people to have to wait, but it’s a step in the right direction. In the meantime, we need to do more to give people access to basic health care, and thus promote the general welfare.

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